With more than 30 million Americans on some form of unemployment benefits, the additional $600 per-week unemployment insurance boost expired Friday as partisan fighting has marred the path forward on a new coronavirus relief deal.
While Democrats have proposed extending the $600 benefit, which began in March, until January, most Republicans have called the benefits too generous. Republicans have proposed reducing benefits to an extra $200 weekly or, separately, 70% of a person’s wage, something Democrats and some states have said will be nearly impossible to implement.
With the benefit’s expiration, without a replacement, many will see a severe drop in their weekly aid — some by more than 90%. The average American received $921 a week in May in benefits, but with the lapse in benefits those checks will fall 65% to about $321 a week.
With the Senate having left town for the week on Thursday, negotiations have stalled without a policy to extend or replace the payments in sight. McConnell has set up a debate for next week on the Senate floor over the unemployment benefits.
“I’m anxious to see us have a bridge on unemployment insurance so that individuals will not lose their supplemental unemployment insurance while we’re working on a larger piece of legislation, COVID-relief legislation,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R., Utah). “Whether that’s my proposal or others that are being floated around, I do think that we need to have a temporary program that is put in place so we don’t have a gap.”
Democrats have continuously rejected Republican proposals, including the White House’s idea of doing a smaller package, which would include an extension of federal unemployment insurance.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows made an offer to extend enhanced unemployment at $600 per week for four months as a stand-alone bill, Politico reported, but House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) rejected the offer, pushing instead to extend the $600 per week benefit through the first quarter of 2021.
“The proposals we made were not received warmly,” Meadows said.
Democrats also rejected a proposal by Senator Martha McSally (R., Ariz.) that would have extended the $600 benefit for one week and another by Senators Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) and Mike Braun (R., Ind.), that would provide, when combined with state unemployment, a two-thirds match to an individual’s previous wage. Federal benefits would be capped at $500 per week and if a state could not dole out a wage-based benefit, they would instead receive a flat $200 per week.
Democrats shot down both proposals, accusing Republicans of carrying out “stunts.”
Republicans hope that bringing measures to the Senate floor could help move negotiations forward, even if they aren’t going to become law.
“We need to get things moving, and this gets things moving. I think our guys want to vote, they want to be able to prove that they’re moving the ball down the field,” said Senator John Thune (R., S.D.). “I think we’ll start next week debating in earnest, hopefully.”