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Democrats say more unemployment benefits needed in wake of record unemployment claims

Democrats say more unemployment benefits needed in wake of record unemployment claims
© Greg Nash

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerProtect America's houses of worship in year-end appropriations package Club for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Inequality of student loan debt underscores possible Biden policy shift MORE (N.Y.) said Friday that Congress “probably will” need to appropriate even more money for jobless claims after a record 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week.

Another 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in the week ending March 21.

“I believe that we will need a COVID-four and I hope that we’ll do it relatively soon,” Schumer said Friday. “Should we expand the benefits?"

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He said the $2.2 trillion package Congress passed into law last week “is not the final say” because “the problem might be even worse and we do not want to leave people behind.”

Schumer said he would be willing to expand the unemployment benefits program if the coronavirus pandemic does not let up in the months ahead.

The phase-three stimulus bill that President TrumpDonald John TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE signed into law a week ago provides an additional $600 a week to state unemployment benefits and extends the relief for four months, paying the equivalent of an average worker’s full salary.

In some states, the beefed-up benefits may even exceed an average worker’s salary, some GOP senators say.

Schumer and Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers On The Money: Push for student loan forgiveness puts Biden in tight spot | Trump is wild card as shutdown fears grow | Mnuchin asks Fed to return 5 billion in unspent COVID emergency funds Grassley, Wyden criticize Treasury guidance concerning PPP loans MORE (D-Ore.) held a press call Friday morning to call on the Trump administration to redouble its efforts to speed up the distribution of enhanced unemployment benefits provided for in the recently passed coronavirus relief bill.

Schumer said the biggest obstacle to getting unemployment benefits out to millions of Americans who are making claims is that the states simply don’t have the infrastructure to handle a wave of new demand.

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He said the “most daunting” challenge is “to help the states expand their access, their people who accept calls.”

“This is the part that we’re pushing the hardest on,” he added.

Schumer said he had what he described as a “good conversation” with Trump on Thursday about why efforts to get help to struggling Americans isn’t “working the way it should now.”

The Democratic leader said Trump was open in their conversation to Schumer’s suggestion of appointing a senior military official to serve as a medical supplies “czar.”

“He said he would look at it,” Schumer said of Trump’s response.  

Wyden on Friday said he thinks another round of economic relief is likely.

“If you have any question of whether it’s going to be necessary, just look at what I’ve been calling this massive escalation of jobless claims. This is a relentless kind of figure — up and up and up. My sense is that we’re going to need to do more for workers,” he said.

Wyden said he’s been on the phone with constituents “who see this as the beginning and not the end.”

Schumer also says the next coronavirus relief bill should include “hazard pay” for workers in the front lines in the battle against the coronavirus, such as doctors and nurses, and expand the special enrollment window for the Affordable Care Act.

“It’s something we feel is very, very important. People need health care, there are lots of people who don’t have health care, many of whom would qualify for the ACA,” Schumer said of expanding the enrollment window.