UPDATE: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Friday that he doesn't expect to pass a new coronavirus relief bill before the end of July when expanded unemployment benefits expire. "Hopefully we can come together behind some package we can agree on in the next few weeks," he said at an event in Ashland, KY, according to the Washington Post.
The Republican-controlled Senate left Washington, D.C. without releasing a plan for the next round of coronavirus relief — a move that all but ensures a $600 weekly unemployment insurance benefit millions of Americans have been receiving for months will now expire.
Republicans spent the week fighting among themselves about what should be in the next package of coronavirus relief — and ultimately punted releasing their plan until next week.
Without an agreement within their own party — let alone an agreement with Democrats in the House, who will also need to pass the aid package — it's unlikely a bill will pass before the $600 weekly unemployment insurance boost expires on July 31. That means, given the way unemployment benefits are calculated, the final checks with the added payments will go out on Sunday or Monday.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi slammed Republicans for their inaction, saying they have known for months that the $600 benefit would expire but took no action. The Democratic-controlled House passed a bill that extended the payments on May 15, but the Senate, led by McConnell, has refused to consider it.
"This weekend, millions of Americans will lose their Unemployment Insurance, will be at risk of being evicted from their homes, and could be laid off by state and local government, and there is only one reason: Republicans have been dithering for months while America's crisis deepens," Schumer and Pelosi said in a joint statement.
Economists say the increased payments have been critical to staving off even worse economic damage from the coronavirus. And without them, economists predict more jobs will be lost as unemployed workers cannot afford to buy goods and services.
Republicans, however, have long been against the additional $600 payment, claiming they disincentivize workers from looking for new jobs — even though economists say there is no evidence that's the case.
Coronavirus relief — including the unemployment insurance payments — are widely popular among Americans. A Reuters/Ipsos poll from Thursday found 76% of Americans support "additional unemployment payments for people who lost jobs due to the pandemic." That includes 68% of Republicans.
Republicans have floated two ideas.
One was decreasing the additional unemployment insurance help from $600 a week to $400 a month, while a second idea is to reduce the weekly boost from 100% of what average workers made before losing their jobs to 70%. Both ideas would lead to a steep decline in the amount that unemployed workers would receive.
Schumer and Pelosi criticized Republicans for waiting this long to address the unemployment payments, as well as for leaving the Capitol without any agreement.
"We had expected to be working throughout this weekend to find common ground on the next COVID response package," they wrote in their statement. "It is simply unacceptable that Republicans have had this entire time to reach consensus among themselves and continue to flail. Time is of the essence and lives are being lost."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.