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The Senate should not kick unemployed workers when they are down

Photo Credit: Getty / Joe Raedle / Staff
The Senate should not kick unemployed workers when they are down
By AFSCME Staff ·

It’s an economic lifeline that Congress extended to millions of Americans who lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Congress – specifically the Senate – is getting ready to yank it away prematurely, though the economy continues to buckle and workers continue to lose jobs through no fault of their own.

We’re talking about the $600 in extra unemployment benefits per week that Congress approved as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, back in March.

This extra benefit is tacked on top of state unemployment payments, and it makes a huge difference for millions of working people who were furloughed or laid off. It often means families can eat and not go hungry, that families can afford to stay in their homes and not be forced out onto the streets.

But there’s a catch. The extra benefit will end July 31 – unless Congress extends it.

The Democratic-majority House of Representatives has approved extending the $600-a-week enhanced unemployment insurance benefit until the start of 2021 as part of a bigger relief bill called the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act. The HEROES Act would also provide $1 trillion in state and local aid – a critical priority for AFSCME.

However, the problem lies with the Republican-majority Senate, which has neither taken up the HEROES Act nor proposed an alternative.

Which means the fates of $600 supplementary benefit and the $1 trillion aid package for struggling states, cities and towns rest with the Senate – which is getting ready to go on vacation this week despite not having addressed either of these critically important issues for millions of working people.

Without the $600 supplement, working people face a substantial loss of income. They won’t have enough money to spend on groceries and other necessities, or to pay their rent or mortgage, all of which will slow down the pace of the economic recovery. In fact, federal numbers released this month show that the $600 weekly payment will strip nearly $842 billion in spending money from some 20 million Americans.

Josh Bivens with the Economic Policy Institute is urging Congress to extend the $600 weekly supplement until mid-2021 to keep the economy from collapsing. Each dollar spent on unemployment insurance benefits boosts spending by as much as $2, he argues.

When the economy is still struggling to get up on its feet, “cutting off a policy support that helps households maintain spending is a terrible idea, both for these households’ welfare and for macroeconomic stabilization,” Bivens writes.

We agree. The Senate should do the right thing by unemployed workers and do it now.

Along with extending the enhanced unemployment benefit beyond July 31, the Senate should also pass state and local aid as soon as possible so states, cities and towns don’t have to lay off more of the workers who are providing the very services communities want, need and deserve.

“Nearly 50 million people have lost their jobs since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the economy. As states, cities and towns face steep revenue shortfalls, they have laid off more than 1.6 million public service workers,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders said. “We can’t risk another Great Depression by failing to act.”

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