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House Democrats press Pelosi for automatic unemployment insurance and food stamp extensions

House Democrats press Pelosi for automatic unemployment insurance and food stamp extensions
© Greg Nash

A group of moderate House Democrats on Monday urged Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden reverses Trump limits on transgender protections The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Infrastructure, Cheney ouster on deck as Congress returns This week: Congressional leaders to meet with Biden amid GOP reckoning MORE (D-Calif.) to include provisions in the next coronavirus relief package that would automatically extend safety net programs including enhanced unemployment insurance, Medicaid and food assistance.

In a letter to Pelosi, the Democratic lawmakers argued that automatically extending those programs through the end of next year would provide more reliable assistance to people hardest hit by the pandemic instead of having to rely on a gridlocked Congress to repeatedly renew them.

"In uncertain times, Congress can provide predictability to get our economy back on track by tying continued relief to economic triggers," wrote Reps. Scott PetersScott H. PetersBiden clean electricity standard faces high hurdles House Democrats introduce carbon pricing measure Democrats target Trump methane rule with Congressional Review Act MORE (Calif.), Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerFive takeaways on the House's return to budget earmarks Lawmakers say companies need to play key role in sustainability On The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to lowest level since lockdowns | Retail sales surge in March | Dow, S&P hit new records MORE (Va.), Colin Allred (Texas), Ed CaseEdward (Ed) CaseMORE (Hawaii), Dean PhillipsDean PhillipsMinnesota takes joy in beating New York for last House seat Bold leadership is necessary to curb violence against youth Democrat Rita Hart withdraws challenge in Iowa House race MORE (Minn.), Sharice DavidsSharice DavidsIs nonpartisan effectiveness still possible? Biden to meet with bipartisan lawmakers on infrastructure When infrastructure fails MORE (Kan.) and Kendra HornKendra Suzanne HornWhy does Rep. Johnson oppose NASA's commercial human landing system? The US's investment in AI is lagging, we have a chance to double it What should Biden do with NASA and the Artemis Program? MORE (Okla.).

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The Democrats also suggested having the expansions expire at the end of next year if the economic conditions have improved by then to ensure it will "keep aid on when it is needed but turn off when it isn’t."

They pointed to the precedent of Congress repeatedly extending emergency unemployment benefits in response to the Great Recession, which forced lawmakers to confront expiration dates each time instead of allowing the program to continue automatically while the economy remained in less-than-desirable conditions.

"[A]s the weak labor market dragged on, it was hard to get Congress to act and the headwinds for extensions could be even stronger this time," the lawmakers wrote in the letter. "Congress should not make the same mistakes again."

House Democrats are preparing to unveil their latest coronavirus relief legislation as soon as Tuesday, which would mean a vote on Friday at the earliest.

The package is expected to serve as a measure outlining Democrats' priorities ahead of negotiations with Republicans and the White House. GOP leaders are slow-walking the prospect of another round of relief measures to boost the economy, but Democrats want to get their ideas out front before any bipartisan talks begin in earnest.

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The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act enacted in late March expanded unemployment insurance, including giving an additional $600 a week in benefits for up to four months. The $600 weekly increase will end after July unless Congress extends it, meaning that people currently receiving unemployment insurance would get reduced payments.

Democrats' latest bill is also expected to include an increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, after they were unable to secure a 15 percent increase as part of the CARES Act.

Another top priority for Democrats in the next relief package is to build upon the one-time individual stimulus payments for people making less than $99,000 annually that were established by the CARES Act.

Under that law, people making $75,000 or less were eligible for $1,200 payments, with those making up to $99,000 receiving smaller prorated payments.

More liberal House Democrats have offered a variety of proposals to expand on the individual payments, arguing that the one-time checks don't go far enough. Democrats are rallying behind giving most Americans monthly $2,000 relief checks for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.

As with their more centrist colleagues who outlined automatically extending existing social safety net programs for the duration of the crisis, the progressive lawmakers also want the individual payments to last for as long as high unemployment persists due to the pandemic.