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Senate Republicans eye short-term extension of unemployment benefits

GOP leaders work on new relief package
GOP leaders work on new relief package 06:45

Washington — Senate Republicans are considering a short-term extension of expanded unemployment insurance benefits that are set to expire within days as members of Congress scramble to negotiate a larger coronavirus relief bill.

White House officials and congressional leaders have expressed hope that lawmakers could reach an agreement on legislation before Congress breaks for its August recess, but if members remain locked in a stalemate, a stop-gap solution for unemployment benefits may be necessary, senators said Wednesday.

"If we can't get it all done by next week, we cannot allow there to be a cliff in the unemployment insurance, given we're still about 11% unemployment and about 17 million Americans out of work," GOP Senator Rob Portman told reporters at the Capitol. The massive $2 trillion relief bill passed in March known as the CARES Act provided out-of-work Americans with an additional $600 per week on top of their state unemployment insurance stipend.

The extra benefits are due to run out at the end of the month, but they'll run out those in many states after this weekend due to a technicality in the calendar.

While the additional aid is extremely popular, some Republicans have raised concerns that the extra $600 is a disincentive for Americans to return to work, since they may be making more while unemployed than they would at low-wage jobs. GOP Senator Bill Cassidy said it would be "counterproductive" for people to earn more from unemployment benefits than they would at work.

Portman suggested the bonus could initially be lower than $600 if it is extended, which Senator Lindsey Graham has also proposed.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney said he was in favor of extending unemployment insurance benefits, but opposes another round of direct payments to individuals. The CARES Act provided $1,200 in direct payments to Americans making under $75,000 per year, a very popular provision of the bill.

Experts say that losing the additional $600 per week in unemployment aid could be catastrophic for many Americans, making it impossible for them to pay rent or afford basic needs. Such a sharp drop in income could be "disastrous" for many families who depend on the supplementary aid to keep afloat, said Michele Evermore, senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows met with congressional leaders on Monday and Tuesday to discuss a potential bill. Mnuchin said Monday that the White House would like the bill to carry a price tag of around $1 trillion.

However, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor Monday that he was unimpressed by the plan by Republicans beginning to take shape.

"It appears that the developing Republican proposal is really unlikely to meet the moment," Schumer said.

Alan He contributed reporting.

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