Most of the last checks went out this week, but the program officially ends Friday, a day that Democrats and Republicans spent trading barbs over who was to blame for the failed negotiations.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Democrats had rejected reasonable offers, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) derided Republicans for trying to advance a short-term fix that would have extended the benefits for just a week.
“The president has been very clear for us to be aggressive and forward-leaning to make sure that they get protected, and yet what we’re seeing is politics as usual from Democrats on Capitol Hill,” Meadows said, addressing reporters in the White House briefing room.
As he was speaking, Pelosi held a news conference on Capitol Hill, where she criticized Republicans for proposing the short-term extension with their backs against the wall.
“What are we going to do in a week?” Pelosi asked as she explained why Democrats rejected the proposal to continue enhanced unemployment benefits at the current $600 weekly level for an additional week.
As many as 30 million workers, including gig workers and the self-employed, are currently receiving some form of unemployment insurance, which has been supplemented by $600 in extra benefits each week — on top of whatever state unemployment benefits a worker gets — since the crisis deepened in March.
Many economists and workers credit the additional money with helping them keep up with basic bills during the crisis: rent, mortgage, car and credit card payments, as well as everyday expenses like food. Most states cap weekly unemployment benefits well below $600; some pay as little as $275 a week as their maximum.
Candida Kevorkian, 53, her son and her daughter-in-law have all been laid off and live together in a two-bedroom in South San Francisco, Calif. She worked at the Westin St. Francis hotel; her son worked at the Moscone Center, a convention center downtown; and her daughter-in-law worked at a Marriott.
The extra $600 Kevorkian gets brings her overall jobless benefits to about $1,050 a week before taxes. But rent is $2,350 — after she negotiated with her landlord to lower it from $2,850. The family has already cut back on clothing, shoes and food, including cooking with meat once a week.
“If they don’t give the $600 anymore, maybe I’m going to have only money to pay rent,” she said. “This is the near future for me — I’m stressed. In the nighttime, I’m thinking and thinking and thinking. … How I’m going to make it?”
Back in March, when the economy was beginning to fail because of the forced shutdowns to stop the spread of the virus, lawmakers rallied around the idea that they were rushing to shore up the economy through a short-lived public health crisis, agreeing to pass more than $2 trillion in stimulus that they thought would see the nation through the summer, when they hoped the pandemic would ease.
But surging coronavirus cases have spurred many states to reverse course and close down restaurants and bars again, and that’s weighing on the economic recovery, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell said during a news conference Wednesday.
Indeed, the pandemic appears to have outlasted the original relief efforts Congress passed, although the wrangling over whether and how to extend jobless benefits has occupied Washington for months.
Eager to avoid blame for Friday’s expiration of the enhanced unemployment aid, Republicans have increasingly coalesced around the idea of a short-term fix. But Democrats have repeatedly rejected that approach and continue pushing for a wide-ranging $3 trillion bill the House passed in May. That bill would extend unemployment benefits through January.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) unveiled a $1 trillion counterproposal Monday, but it was quickly rejected by many members of his own conference and has increasingly seemed irrelevant as Republicans look to a short-term fix. One proposal they are eyeing would reduce the $600 weekly federal benefit to $200 or, alternatively, implement a system that would replace about two-thirds of a worker’s previous wages.
Pelosi and Meadows have held meetings for four days straight, along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). Pelosi said they would talk again Friday.
She said such a short-term extension might make sense if a deal were in sight on a larger bill and more time was needed to complete it. But, she said, that is not the state of play as the parties remain far apart.
“We anticipate that we will have a bill, but we’re not there yet,” Pelosi said.