On The Money: House panel advances measure expanding unemployment benefits in relief package | Powell says more aid needed for full recovery
Happy Wednesday and welcome back to On The Money, where we’ve got the finance beat covered upside-down and backwards. I’m Sylvan Lane, and here’s your nightly guide to everything affecting your bills, bank account and bottom line.
THE BIG DEAL—House panel advances measure extending 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 and now heads to the House Budget Committee as part of the budget reconciliation process.
- The measure would extend federal unemployment programs set to expire in March through Aug. 29 for self-employed people and for those who have exhausted their regular state benefits.
- The bill would also 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. But Republicans criticized the measure, arguing that some people would receive more in unemployment benefits than they had previously received in wages.
The Hill’s Naomi Jagoda has more on the debate here.
In Focus—Unemployment insurance: Expanding and extending boosted unemployment benefits is one of the pillars of the Democratic relief plan.
- There are roughly 10 million jobs yet to be recovered from the onset of the pandemic, and while the unemployment rate was 6.3 percent in January, that figure is depressed by millions of Americans who have left the labor force because of the pandemic.
- The vast majority of those who are still unemployed due to COVID-19 are among the least wealthy Americans.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday that if the parameters of the unemployment rate were expanded to those workers, it would be close to 10 percent. The Fed chief added that ample economic support from all across the government would be crucial to bringing back a strong labor market.
“Experience tells us that getting to and staying at full employment will not be easy. In the near term, policies that bring the pandemic to an end as soon as possible are paramount,” Powell said. I’ve got more on his speech here.
Technical fixes: Democrats are also eager to upgrade the shoddy, antiquated technology that most states use to run their unemployment insurance systems. That’s why four Democratic Senators introduced a bill Wednesday aimed at revamping the technology powering the country’s unemployment insurance system.
- The Unemployment Insurance Technology Modernization Act would seek to create standardized unemployment websites and features that states could choose to adopt.
- The bill also calls for regular testing and servicing of unemployment systems and the establishment of a team at the Labor Department to help states with technological issues.
- The legislation comes after technical errors plagued the delivery of unemployment assistance to the millions of Americans who lost their jobs at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Hill’s Chris Mills Rodrigo breaks it down here.
LEADING THE DAY
Deficit hits $736 billion in first third of year: The federal deficit roared to $736 billion in the first four months of the 2021 fiscal year, according to Treasury Department data released Wednesday.
That figure is 89 percent higher than in the same period last year, before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the United States. It is also near or above the annual deficit in most fiscal years in recent decades.
The latest deficit data is likely to further spur a discussion on the size and scope of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief proposal, which Republicans and some centrist Democrats say is too big.
The Hill’s Niv Elis walks us through the numbers here.
Sanders confronts Tanden over past ‘vicious attacks’ Neera Tanden, President Biden’s nominee to direct the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) who once referred to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as “crazy,” faced him in a Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
Sanders, who is now chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, confronted Tanden on her past criticism in opening the hearing, calling her past attacks “vicious.”
“My language and my expressions on social media caused hurt to people, and I feel badly about that. And I really regret it and I recognize that it’s really important for me to demonstrate that I can work with others,” she told Sanders.
The background: Tanden, who if confirmed would take on a central policy role in the White House, faced criticism from both sides of the aisle in her second day of confirmation hearings.
- Tanden had been a Senate aide and supporter of Hillary Clinton before heading the Center for American Progress (CAP) think tank and already faced scrutiny for vitriolic rhetoric against Republicans, particularly on Twitter.
- She apologized to some of those Republicans on Tuesday in her first confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
- But she also previously had tough words about Sanders, Clinton’s 2016 Democratic presidential primary rival.
Niv gives us a recap here.
Read more: Kennedy: Tanden called Sanders everything but ‘ignorant slut’
GOOD TO KNOW
- Republicans on three committees are fuming that they will be sidelined from putting their touch on the coronavirus relief package while the Budget and Rules committees determine how some $12 billion in federal funding will be spent.
- Heineken on Wednesday revealed plans to cut 8,000 jobs as its sales around the world take a hit from the coronavirus pandemic.
- The Biden administration has reportedly shelved plans to force Chinese-owned ByteDance to sell the popular video-sharing app TikTok as it weighs potential security risks.
- Target on Wednesday announced that it would pay its U.S. workers and offer them a free Lyft ride so they could get to and from their coronavirus vaccination appointments.
ODDS AND ENDS