Jul 24 2020
Senate Republicans inflict cruel, unnecessary suffering on the American people
Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), Vice Chair and top Democrat on Congress’ Joint Economic Committee, issued the following statement after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allowed the Senate to adjourn for the week without passing an extension of enhanced federal unemployment benefits, which are set to lapse absent action from Congress by the end of this week:
“Senate Republicans’ failure to act will inflict enormous, unnecessary suffering on millions of Americans. If they do not act soon, we could see a new Great Depression in the United States.
“It is difficult to process the fact that, faced with perhaps our nation’s worst crisis since World War II, the Senate spent two months doing almost nothing but rubber stamping judicial and executive branch nominees. With the pandemic exploding in states they represent, the economic recovery stalling, and job losses accelerating, Senate Republicans simply refused to do anything about it.
“The damage from a lapse in enhanced federal unemployment benefits will radiate throughout the economy. Even if Republicans ultimately pass an extension, it will come too late to help those who are evicted, those who lose their jobs, businesses, or health coverage, and those who go hungry. This is a dark moment for our country.”
The CARES Act added $600 per week to state unemployment payments, with an expiration date “on or before July 31.” Because states process payments on a weekly schedule, which ends on Saturday or Sunday, and the month ends on a Friday, this is the final week to extend enhanced benefits without incurring a lapse.
Over 30 million American workers have applied for or are currently receiving those benefits, according to the Department of Labor.
The House passed the Heroes Act, which contained a provision which would extend the benefit at its current level into January. Mitch McConnell ignored the bill, saying at the time that he felt no “urgency of action.”
Senate Republicans concluded official business for the week without passing an extension, and remain unable to agree with each other and the White House about whether or how to address unemployment benefits. Their competing proposals reportedly differ on whether to reduce flat payments, or to create a new system with a complicated formula to determine the amount of each worker’s benefit. Economic analysis shows that evidence does not support Republican concerns about the $600 benefit creating a disincentive to work.
Many states use outdated systems to process unemployment benefits, which required long delays to process the initial $600 addition and could delay new payments by weeks or months to make changes suggested by Republicans.
The Brookings Institution estimated that the $600 enhanced benefit replaced half of Americans’ lost wages in the month of April. Economists say that the loss of that level of spending power will inflict widespread damage on the economy, leading to new rounds of business closures and layoffs. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that eliminating the $600 addition could cost the economy over 5 million jobs.
Rep. Beyer is the Vice Chair of the Joint Economic Committee and the author, with Rep. Derek Kilmer and Senators Jack Reed and Michael Bennet, of the Worker Relief and Security Act, which would use automatic stabilizers to tie federal unemployment benefits to economic conditions and the public health emergency.