Will Republicans slash unemployment benefits?
In March, Congress passed a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that included an additional $600 in weekly unemployment benefits. But that supplemental unemployment income cuts off at the end of the month. While Democrats want to extend the extra benefits, Republicans have fought against doing so. Now, President Trump says Republicans may keep extra unemployment benefits — if they're scaled back to less than $200 a week.
Trump made his comments during a press conference earlier this week. MarketWatch reported that Trump told reporters that the original supplemental benefits "worked out well because it gave people a lifeline." He went on to add, "Now we're doing it again. They're thinking about doing 70% of the amount."
It's not entirely clear what Trump means with his statement. He could be referring to cutting the $600 payment down by 70%, which means benefits would drop to $420 a week. Or, he could mean that the supplemental benefits would be equal to about 70% of an unemployed person's lost wages, in which case, supplemental benefits could drop down into the $175 to $200 range.
Either way, unemployed Americans would be losing out on a considerable amount of money at a time when the pandemic is not weakening but actually surging. Just this week, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that coronavirus cases could be massively underreported. Although plenty of states have reopened businesses, that doesn't mean jobs are back — and some states that had begun to reopen have closed again as cases surge. Another 1.4 million workers filed for unemployment insurance last week.
The fight around supplemental benefits has been going on for months. In May, the House passed the HEROES Act, which includes a second stimulus payment and extended supplemental benefits through January 2021. After a lengthy delay in the Republican-controlled Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested it'd only pass if the stimulus checks were given a stricter income cap.
“While Sen. McConnell calls for a pause, it is clear that the virus isn’t pausing, the rent isn’t pausing, hunger isn’t pausing, and the bills aren’t pausing," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. "The GOP Senate must take action and vote on the House-passed Heroes Act, to deliver the testing, tracing, and treatment to crush the virus, relief for our state and local communities in crisis, and money in the pockets of the American people."
The coronavirus pandemic's impacts have not been evenly distributed. In May, the Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell urged Congress to pass more aid, stating that a Fed survey found that "among people who were working in February, almost 40% of those in households making less than $40,000 a year had lost a job in March."
And while there were reports of the economy slowly recovering, Black workers were being left behind. While the extent of the gap surprised some economists, its general existence did not. Dania Francis, an economics professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst, told The Hill, “Many of us who work in racial disparities were predicting that white workers would be absorbed at a faster rate, and therefore we would start to see the gap between Black and white unemployment increase again."
The pandemic hasn't only impacted wages. A July study found that coronavirus had led to the biggest increase in uninsured people on record. And yet, at the end of June, Trump had restarted his war on Obamacare. It's clear that poor Americans are suffering on multiple fronts, with Republican leadership doing very little to offer assistance.
Some additional unemployment benefits may be better than nothing at all, but nobody should have to settle for scraps. As Ernie Tedeschi, an economist who worked in the Treasury Department under the Obama administration, told Business Insider: "That's a pretty devastating cut for families that already lean low-income to begin with. They would have to make tough choices."