More than 100 Democrats press Trump to extend jobless benefits

More than 100 Democrats press Trump to extend jobless benefits
© Greg Nash

House Democrats this week are pressing President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoe Arpaio loses bid for his old position as sheriff Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet MORE to extend emergency jobless benefits in response to the economic turmoil caused by the fast-spreading coronavirus.

The issue is poised to be one of the highest barriers to a bipartisan deal as Congress prepares to launch negotiations on a fifth round of emergency pandemic relief, which leaders from both parties want to finalize by month's end.

Congress in March had adopted a broad expansion of federal unemployment insurance benefits, including a weekly bump of $600 above traditional state payments, designed to cushion the impact on workers and retail spending amid historic mass layoffs caused by the deadly pandemic.

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With those unemployment checks set to expire at the end of the month, Democrats are pushing for Trump to extend them — with the additional $600 intact.

In a letter to the president set to be delivered on Thursday, more than 100 House Democrats said the extension is "essential" to an economic recovery.

"Cutting off enhanced unemployment benefits while the economy is still in crisis would ignore the millions of Americans who are still suffering," the lawmakers wrote.

Spearheaded by Reps. Dan KildeeDaniel (Dan) Timothy KildeeDemocrats set to hold out for big police reform More than 100 Democrats press Trump to extend jobless benefits Pelosi makes fans as Democrat who gets under Trump's skin MORE (D-Mich.) and Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), the letter is endorsed by 110 Democrats. In it, they note that the recession has not only spiked unemployment from 3.6 percent in January to more than 11 percent today, but it's also hit minority communities particularly hard — an issue of particular prominence amid the protests against racial injustice that have followed the police killing of George Floyd in May.

"Our nation is currently reckoning with deep-rooted racial injustices," reads the letter. "These injustices are the reason communities of color disproportionately feel the health and economic effects of this pandemic and must be addressed."

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In a phone interview Thursday morning, Kildee warned that if Congress allows the benefits to expire without throwing an additional lifeline, workers would lose homes, be evicted from apartments and curtail their spending on essential goods that would lead to the closure of countless small businesses. The result, he said, would be another Great Depression.

"It's literally the difference between people surviving or not surviving," Kildee said. "It would just be devastating."

In May, House Democrats passed a fifth coronavirus relief bill, the HEROES Act, providing an additional $3 trillion in emergency funding. It includes an extension of unemployment insurance benefits, including the $600 supplemental payment, through January of 2021.

But Trump and top administration officials have said they'll oppose an extension of the $600 supplemental, arguing that because the benefit provides some workers with more money than the salary they lost, it creates a disincentive for those workers to seek jobs.

Joining Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCoronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal Pelosi, Schumer say White House declined T coronavirus deal COVID-19 bill limiting liability would strike the wrong balance MORE (R-Ky.) has opposed the additional payment, characterizing it as "a bonus not to go back to work."

As an alternative approach, some Republicans are pushing for a "back-to-work" bonus, which would provide laid-off workers receiving unemployment benefits a one-time payment if they return to the workforce.

Kildee said he's open to that idea, but rejected the notion that workers receiving unemployment insurance benefits wouldn't jump at the chance to return to jobs — if jobs were available amid the spike in coronavirus cases around the country.

"That's pretty insulting to the American worker," he said. "People will choose work if they have the chance to go back to work."

Anecdotally, Kildee said he's spoken with Republicans who agree in an extension of the additional unemployment insurance benefits. But those lawmakers won't break with Trump, he said, for fear of a backlash from the president.

"Privately, there's an acknowledgement that we have to extend it," Kildee said. "But until the president gives them permission to say so, most of them are unwilling to cross him."