House Republican offers bill to create 'return to work bonus'

House Republican offers bill to create 'return to work bonus'
© Greg Nash

A prominent GOP House lawmaker on Monday introduced legislation to create a "return to work bonus," an idea gaining traction among Republicans concerned about the $600-per-week boost to unemployment benefits enacted in March amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Under the bill from Rep. Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyRepublicans focus tax hike opposition on capital gains change GOP, business groups snipe at Biden restaurant remarks Top Democrat offers bill to overhaul tax break for business owners MORE (Texas), the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, people who had been receiving unemployment benefits and return to work would be able to receive up to two weekly payments of $600, or one lump-sum payment of $1,200. The benefit would be available through July 31, when the $600 increase to weekly unemployment benefits expires.

"Through a Return To Work Bonus — which would allow workers to keep up to two weeks of unemployment benefits if they accept a job offer — we can make sure these temporary job losses don’t turn into permanent ones," Brady said in a statement.

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“We need these workers. Unless we can reconnect these workers with these Main Street businesses soon, that business may no longer be there," he added. "This proposal is an important part in preventing a prolonged recession.”

The bill comes as Democrats and Republicans are divided over the increase to unemployment benefits as states begin to lift restrictions on businesses that were enacted to help fight the spread of COVID-19.

Many Democrats want the $600 increase to weekly unemployment benefits to be extended past July, arguing that many people will still be unemployed and need assistance when the current increased benefits expire. But Republicans are worried that the increased benefits are discouraging people from going back to work because some are now receiving more in unemployment benefits than they were in wages before they lost their jobs. 

Brady isn't the only GOP lawmaker who has expressed interest in a return-to-work bonus. Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenate eyeing possible weekend finish for T infrastructure bill Kaine says he has votes to pass Iraq War repeal in Senate Overnight Defense: Senate panel votes to scrap Iraq war authorizations | Police officer fatally stabbed outside Pentagon ID'd | Biden admin approves first Taiwan arms sale MORE (R-Ohio) has floated a proposal under which people who go back to work receive a $450-per-week benefit for a period of time on top of their wages. And White House economic adviser Larry KudlowLarry KudlowMORE said last week that this concept is something that the administration is "looking at very carefully."

In addition to the provision about the return-to-work bonus, Brady's bill also includes one to direct states to have reporting mechanisms for employers to notify states when someone refuses a job offer, and to direct states to send notices to unemployment benefit claimants about their state's return-to-work laws and their rights to refuse to return to work.

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Meanwhile, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenThe job of shielding journalists is not finished Up next in the culture wars: Adding women to the draft Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire MORE (Ore.), said Monday that the next coronavirus relief package needs to include automatic extensions of enhanced unemployment benefits tied to economic conditions. Wyden made his comment after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Trump asks court to block release of tax returns to Congress | Private sector adds 330K jobs in July, well short of expectations Senate panel advances first three spending bills McConnell lays out GOP demands for government-funding deal MORE (R-Ky.) said that the next coronavirus stimulus legislation would be the last one.

“With Mitch McConnell pledging that the next COVID-19 relief package will be the last, Democrats must make triggers for unemployment benefits non-negotiable," Wyden said in a statement. 

Wyden released a proposal last month that would continue boosting the temporary higher weekly unemployment benefits until a state's three-month average unemployment rate falls below 11 percent. The amount of enhanced unemployment benefits would then be reduced as the unemployment rate falls.

"Failure to implement triggers now will make it exponentially harder to ensure economic recovery and pass legislation to address our many challenges, from protecting Social Security to lowering prescription drug prices,” he said.