Monday, July 20, 2020

This is the last week of $600 unemployment benefits

(CNN)The end is near for the $600 federal lifeline for millions of unemployed Americans -- even though the economy is still far from recovered from the coronavirus pandemic and new layoffs are being announced regularly.
The coronavirus relief program technically doesn't expire until July 31, but this coming week will be the last for which benefits are paid -- because payments are only provided for weeks ending on either Saturday or Sunday.
Jobless Americans will still get state unemployment benefits, but the sunset of the Congress' $600 enhancement -- part of the $2 trillion economic aid package passed in March -- will leave more than 25 million people thousands of dollars poorer each month. And it will expose more of the real pain of mass unemployment, just as many states are reimposing shutdowns.
"These emergency unemployment benefits have been propping up families and propping up the economy now for several months, said Kali Grant, senior policy analyst at the Georgetown Center on Poverty & Inequality. "Ending the benefits prematurely will really set back any economic recovery that may have been on the way."
    Congressional lawmakers are beginning to work this week on the next economic stimulus package. But it's unlikely they'll agree on -- much less approve -- the next step to help unemployed Americans before the payments lapse.
    The provision was controversial from the start, mainly because the $600 boost, when added to state benefits, is more than what two-thirds of workers made on the job, according to an estimate from University of Chicago researchers.
    But lawmakers approved it in late March as part of a historic expansion of the nation's unemployment program at a time when health officials didn't want people out looking for work. The flat $600 payment was much easier for state agencies -- which were already struggling as a flood of claims overwhelmed their antiquated technology -- to implement.
    Congress approved the boost for only four months, thinking that the economy would bounce back quickly once the coronavirus was vanquished and businesses reopened. For a while, that seemed to be the case -- with employers hiring more than 7 million workers in May and June after shedding an unprecedented 20.5 million jobs in April.
    LISTEN: $600 unemployment benefits end soon
    The federal $600 weekly boost to jobless benefits expire this month unless Congress extends it.
    Senate Republicans, who are expected to release their proposal this week, are generally loath to extend the full benefit. They feel it creates a disincentive for people to return to work, a concern echoed by some business owners. Instead, GOP lawmakers are considering scaling back the enhancement by several hundred dollars and creating a bonus for those who go back to work.
    Democrats, on the other hand, want to continue the bigger benefit into 2021. The House included that provision in the $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill it passed in May.
    "The right thing to do for families and the economy is extend supercharged unemployment benefits," said Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat. "They have unquestionably kept the economy afloat."

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