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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 BradyBuchanan to seek top GOP position on Ways and Means Committee The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring On The Money: Senate confirms Gensler to lead SEC | Senate GOP to face off over earmarks next week | Top Republican on House tax panel to retire 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 PortmanKellyanne Conway joins Ohio Senate candidate's campaign OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate confirms Mallory to lead White House environment council | US emissions dropped 1.7 percent in 2019 | Interior further delays Trump rule that would make drillers pay less to feds Senate confirms Biden's pick to lead White House environmental council 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 WydenGOP senator: Raising corporate taxes is a 'non-starter' Democrats get good news from IRS IRS chief warns of unpaid taxes hitting trillion 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 McConnellTrump looms over Senate's anti-Asian hate crimes battle Appointing a credible, non-partisan Jan. 6 commission should not be difficult Why President Biden is all-in in infrastructure 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.