Election 2020 Politics

30 million unemployed to lose extra jobless benefits, as talks between Congress and the White House collapse

Most of the last checks went out this week, but the program officially ends on Friday, a day which Democrats and Republicans spent by trading barbs over who was to blame for the failed negotiations.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Democrats had rejected reasonable offers while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) derided Republicans for trying to advance a short-term unemployment insurance fix that would have extended the benefits for just a week.

“The president has been very clear for us to be aggressive and forward-leaning to make sure that they get protected and yet what we’re seeing is politics as usual from Democrats on Capitol Hill,” Meadows said, addressing reporters in the White House briefing room.

As he was speaking, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) held a news conference on Capitol Hill, where she derided Republicans for trying to advance a short-term unemployment insurance fix with their backs against the wall.

“What are we gonna do in a week?” Pelosi asked as she explained why Democrats rejected a proposal to extend enhanced unemployment benefits at their current $600-weekly level for an additional week.

As many as 30 million workers, including gig workers and the self-employed, are currently receiving some form of unemployment insurance, which has been supplemented by an additional $600 in extra benefits each week since the crisis deepened in March.

Many economists as well as workers credit the extra benefits with helping them with basic payments during the crisis: rent, mortgage, car and credit card payments as well as everyday expenses like food. Most states cap weekly unemployment benefits well below $600; some states pay as little as $275 a week as their maximum.

Candida Kevorkian, 53, as well as her son and daughter-in-law have all been laid off and live together in a two-bedroom in South San Francisco, Calif. She worked at the Westin St. Francis hotel, her son worked at the Moscone Center, a convention center downtown, and her daughter-in-law worked at a Marriott.

The extra $600 Kevorkian gets brings her overall jobless benefits to around $1,050 a week in benefits before taxes. But rent is $2,350, which she was able to negotiate down from her landlord from $2,850. The family has already cut back on food, clothing and shoes, including cooking with meat once a week.

“If they don’t give the $600 anymore, maybe I’m going to have only money to pay rent,” she said. “This is the near future for me — I’m stressed. In the nighttime, I’m thinking and thinking and thinking … How I’m going to make it?”

Back in March when the economy was beginning to fail due to the forced shutdowns to stop the spread of the virus, lawmakers rallied around the idea that they were rushing to shore up the economy through a short-lived public health crisis, agreeing to pass over $2 trillion in stimulus they believed would see the nation through the summer, when they hoped the pandemic would ease.

Surging cases of the coronavirus have spurred many states to reverse course and close down restaurants and bars again, that’s weighing on the economic recovery, said Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell said during a news conference on Wednesday

Indeed, the pandemic appears to have outlasted the original relief efforts Congress passed. Although the wrangling over whether and how to extend jobless benefits has occupied Washington for months.

Eager to avoid blame for Friday’s expiration of enhanced unemployment Republicans have increasingly coalesced around the idea of trying to pass a short-term fix. But Democrats have repeatedly rejected that approach and continue pushing for a wide-ranging $3 trillion bill the House passed in May. That bill would extend unemployment benefits through January.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) unveiled a $1 trillion counterproposal on Monday, but it was quickly rejected by many members of his own conference, and has increasingly seemed irrelevant as Republicans look to a short-term fix. One proposal they are eyeing would reduce the $600 weekly federal benefit — which comes on top of whatever state unemployment benefits a worker gets — down to $200 weekly, or, alternatively, a system that would replace about two-thirds of a worker’s previous wages.

Pelosi and Meadows have held meetings for four days straight, along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). Pelosi said they would be talking again on Friday.

Pelosi said such a short-term extension might make sense if a deal were in sight on a larger bill, and more time was needed to complete it. But, she said, that is not the state of play as the parties remain far apart.

“We anticipate that we will have a bill, but we’re not there yet,” Pelosi said.

You may also like