Washington, D.C.—Today, at a U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC) hearing on boosting economic confidence and reducing uncertainty during the coronavirus, Vice Chair Don Beyer (D-VA) called on Congress to automate enhanced unemployment benefits, SNAP, Medicaid and other supports families need during the current economic crisis and future ones by tying them to the unemployment rate. This would ensure that such supports continue as long as they are needed without the need for a vote by Congress.

Yesterday, Vice Chair Beyer introduced with Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-WA) the Worker Relief and Security Act, legislation that would provide enhanced unemployment benefits to those who are out of work until the unemployment rate in their states returns to pre-crisis levels. The legislation is based on a legislative framework released in May that was developed with Kilmer, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), and has received the support of leading economists—including former Federal Reserve Chairs Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke, as well the Democratic witnesses for today’s hearing, Heather Boushey and Jared Bernstein.

As Vice Chair Beyer, Boushey and Bernstein explained during the hearing, automating support in this way boosts economic confidence and reduces economic uncertainty for families, businesses and state and local governments, helping to promote economic recovery.

Vice Chair Beyer said:

“In an economic crisis like the one we are in now, Congress’s role is to assure families, businesses and state and local governments that they will get the support they need as long for as they need it. Currently, however, because of the petty, partisan, political posturing of Senate Republicans, tens of millions of unemployed Americans are waiting for a vote that will determine whether they can pay rent or put food on the table.

“Congress should take politics out of this and use a data-based approach instead—one that ties enhanced unemployment benefits and other similar support to economic conditions, so they ramp up when families need them and ramp down when they do not.

“Sadly, there are Members of Congress who derive their political power, even build their entire careers around forcing dramatic, dangerous showdowns on Capitol Hill. In the past, they threatened to shut down the federal government; today, they threaten to allow enhanced unemployment benefits to expire. They rob millions of Americans of help they desperately need while unemployment is sky high. When politicians play these games, real people get hurt."

Dr. Boushey said:

“Enhanced unemployment benefits should end when objective conditions show they are no longer needed. An unemployment-rate-based ‘trigger’ that only turns off when a stable recovery is underway would allow this program to wind down automatically.” (Read her full testimony here.)

Jared Bernstein said:

“By forcefully taking charge of the public health aspects of the crisis and by ensuring that fiscal relief will be there as long and as deeply as people need it, Congress can help reduce the American people’s uncertainty and economic insecurity. I strongly urge you to do so and will be happy to help in any way I can.” (Read his full testimony here.)

The hearing took place against a backdrop of negotiations between the House, Senate and White House over the next coronavirus relief package. Key differences between the House on the one side, which passed the HEROES Act on May 15, and the Senate and White House on the other, which didn't release a legislative package until late in the day on Monday, include extending enhanced unemployment benefits that expire at the end of July as well as aid for state and local governments.

Congressional Republicans are currently proposing to extend enhanced unemployment benefits but cut them from $600 to $200 until states can improve their unemployment insurance systems. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that the $400 cut in benefits would reduce GDP by 2.5 percent and cost the economy 3.4 million jobs over the next year.

Vice Chair Beyer said: 

“During a global pandemic, the federal government should provide more certainty for families, businesses and state and local governments—not less. Now, because Senate Republicans let enhanced unemployment benefits lapse in the first place, they have created a financial headache for families who count on these benefits and businesses who count on the consumer spending they enable. We can and must do better for the millions of families who are counting on this support.”

Read Vice Chair Beyer’s written opening statement here.

About Congressman Beyer

Congressman Don Beyer is currently serving his third term in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Northern Virginia suburbs of the nation’s capital. In addition to his role as Vice Chair of the JEC, Beyer serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Previously, Beyer served as the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia and Ambassador to Switzerland, and built a successful family business over the course of four decades.

About the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee

 The U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee is Congress’s bicameral economic think tank. It was created when Congress passed the Employment Act of 1946. Under this Act, Congress established two advisory panels: the President's Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) and the JEC. Their primary tasks are to review economic conditions and to recommend improvements in economic policy.

Chairmanship of the JEC alternates between the Senate and House every Congress. Currently, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) is the Chair and Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA) is the Vice Chair.