House panel advances measure expanding unemployment benefits in relief package
The House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday advanced the portion of House Democrats’ coronavirus relief package that would expand federal unemployment benefits.
The measure was approved by a party-line vote of 24-18. It now heads to the House Budget Committee as part of the budget reconciliation process.
The measure would extend federal unemployment programs through Aug. 29 for self-employed people and for those who have exhausted their regular state benefits. The programs are currently set to expire in mid-March.
Additionally, the bill would extend the federal boost to weekly unemployment benefits through the end of August, and would increase the amount of the weekly boost from $300 to $400 from mid-March through Aug. 29.
Democrats said the measure would provide much needed assistance to people who lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic. They noted that unemployment levels are still high compared to levels before the economic downturn.
“Americans do not want pandemic emergency assistance. They don’t want to stay home. Americans need pandemic emergency assistance,” said Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.).
Horsford also said that women and people of color would be the hardest hit if federal unemployment programs expire next month.
Republicans criticized the measure, arguing that some people would receive more in unemployment benefits than they had previously received in wages. GOP lawmakers also expressed concerns about the level of fraud related to the unemployment programs.
“As safe and effective vaccines are administered and states roll back restrictions on businesses, this is the time to focus on reconnecting workers with jobs,” said Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.).
Republicans offered several amendments focused on their concerns, but they were rejected on party-line votes.
The portion on unemployment benefits is one of several components of the relief package that the Ways and Means Committee is considering this week. Another would provide direct payments of $1,400 per person.
Other House committees are also holding markups this week on portions of the relief package, which is based on a $1.9 trillion proposal President Biden released last month.
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