Senate Democrats offer plan to extend added jobless benefits during pandemic

Senate Democrats on Wednesday unveiled legislation to extend a generous federal increase of weekly unemployment benefits that would continue as long as the coronavirus pandemic affects the economy.

The American Workforce Rescue Act, introduced by Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), would extend the $600 federal increase in weekly unemployment benefits beyond July 31, when the current federal enhancement of benefits is due to expire.

That initial federal boost to weekly state unemployment benefits was included in the CARES Act signed into law in late March, but it has come under fierce criticism from Republicans, who say the benefit is so generous that it has created a disincentive for workers to return to low- and middle-income jobs.

The Schumer-Wyden proposal would extend the $600 increase in weekly unemployment insurance (UI) benefits past July 31 until a time when a state’s three-month average total unemployment rate falls below 11 percent.

The federal benefit would drop from $600 a week by $100 for every percentage point decrease in the state’s unemployment rate, until that rate falls below 6 percent, according to a summary of the proposal provided by their offices.

For example, people who are out of work in a state with an unemployment rate between 10 percent and 11 percent would receive a weekly federal benefit enhancement of $500 under the proposal, and people in a state with an unemployment rate of between 9 percent and 10 percent would receive $400 a week.

“If we fail to renew the $600 per week increase in UI, millions of American families will have their legs cut out from underneath them at the worst possible time—in the middle of a pandemic when unemployment is higher than it’s been since the Great Depression,” Schumer said in a statement Wednesday.

Nearly every state currently has an unemployment rate above 8 percent, while many are in the double digits. Federal Reserve officials predicted last month that the national unemployment rate would remain above 9 percent through the end of 2020.

Senate Republicans are rallying around a plan sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to instead provide a $450-a-week bonus to people who leave the unemployment rolls and return to work, but Schumer says that won’t help people who can’t return to their old jobs or find new ones.

“The back-to-work bonus pays people who are working. What about the people who are unemployed and can’t get back to work? I don’t get it, it’s illogical. If unemployment insurance is supposed people who are unemployed, back-to-work bonus doesn’t solve that problem,” Schumer said Tuesday.

“We need [a] generous unemployment benefit during this time,” he added.

The Senate Democratic plan would also extend the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program until March 27 and remain available until a state’s unemployment rate falls below 5.5 percent.

The pandemic unemployment compensation program provides up to 13 weeks of additional benefits to people who have exhausted their state and federal unemployment benefits.

If a state’s unemployment rate is above 8.5 percent, people without work in those states are eligible for up to 52 weeks of the pandemic emergency unemployment compensation.

Laid-off workers in a state with an unemployment rate of between 7.5 percent and 8.5 percent are eligible for 39 weeks of additional compensation.

People in states with an unemployment rate falling between 6.5 percent and 7.5 percent would get a total of 26 weeks of pandemic emergency unemployment compensation and those in states with an unemployment rate between 5.5 percent and 6.5 percent could get 13 weeks of additional benefits.

“In the face of exploding outbreaks and unprecedented economic pain, it would be unconscionable to allow supercharged unemployment benefits to expire in a month. Supercharged unemployment benefits need to be extended and tied to economic conditions on the ground,” Wyden said in a statement. 

Tags Charles Schumer Rob Portman Ron Wyden Unemployment benefits
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