With No Agreement on Coronavirus Aid, Senate Turns to Standalone Unemployment Bills

Congressional leadership including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, stand outside the Capital, Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Washington.

Congressional leadership including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, stand outside the Capital, Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Washington. Brendan Smialowski/Pool via AP

 

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Before adjourning for the weekend, Senate Republicans introduced several bills Thursday that would extend federal unemployment benefits for out of work Americans.

With no agreement in sight between House and Senate leaders on a coronavirus relief package, Senate Republicans sought unsuccessfully Thursday to pass a standalone extension of the federal unemployment benefits that expired this month.  

Several lawmakers introduced last minute legislation to extend enhanced unemployment benefits to the millions of Americans who remain out of work because of the pandemic. But partisan fighting marred any progress Thursday, with Republicans and Democrats both accusing the other side of being unwilling to negotiate.

The Senate is now adjourned until Monday, when lawmakers may opt to resume debate over unemployment insurance if no progress is made on negotiations over a broader aid package.

“If our Democratic colleagues had acted with the urgency that struggling people deserve, we could right now be finishing up a major bipartisan package for kids, jobs, and healthcare,” Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “But instead, jobless Americans are staring down this cliff, because Speaker Pelosi and the Democratic Leader have refused to negotiate.”

Democrats meanwhile, pointed to their May passage of a $3 trillion package that would provide aid to businesses, schools, healthcare industry, and state and local government, as well as extend the current weekly enhanced unemployment benefits through January.

“Ten weeks after House Democrats passed the HEROES Act to defeat the coronavirus and safely reopen the economy, Senate Republicans’ ongoing delay continues to wreak its deadly toll on the lives and livelihoods of the American people,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

The $600-a-week federal boost in unemployment benefits included in the CARES Act expired this month, meaning unemployed workers will have substantially less money to live on beginning next week.   

One Republican proposal would have extended the $600-a-week benefits for an additional week while negotiations on a broader package continue. Democrats blocked the effort, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer calling it a stunt that wouldn’t help anyone. States have already turned off the federal unemployment benefits and experts said it could take several weeks to restart any form of federal payments.

“Sen. McConnell isn’t even in our negotiations with the White House because Senate Republicans don’t have a unified position on anything,” Schumer said, instead encouraging lawmakers to back the HEROES Act relief package.

Republicans’ own plans to extend unemployment insurance highlight their lack of consensus over the issue.

The Senate’s broader coronavirus aid proposal, the HEALS Act, would pay $200 a week while giving states time to set up the framework to transition to a percentage-based system.

Meanwhile a proposal introduced Thursday by Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, would give states the option to offer either a flat $200-a-week federal benefit or to pay 66% of a person’s wages up to $500. The bill would continue the payments through December.

Another proposal from Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah Republican, would allow states to choose either an 80% wage replacement or a flat payment that declines from $500 a week in August to $300 a week by October.

“Unemployed workers should not be left in limbo while Congress continues to negotiate the next relief package,” Romney said. “Our solution extends the supplemental benefits for three months and incentivizes states to update their UI processing systems.”

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

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