US Treasury Secretary Steven Terner Mnuchin argued that legislators should move quickly to approve a second stimulus check and other aid. (Shutterstock)

Senate plan would give you stimulus check but reduce unemployment benefits

You may get another $1,200 stimulus check, and perhaps a bonus if you go back to work. You won’t immediately face eviction if you can’t pay the rent. But if there is no job for you to return to, you likely will see a cut to your unemployment benefits.

Those are the provisions in the Senate Republicans’ $1 trillion stimulus bill to be proposed Monday with White House support, two months after House Democrats passed their own $3 trillion package to respond to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“There’s a $1,200 check coming. That is going to be part of the new package,” White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union. “The check is there. The re-employment bonus is there. The retention bonus is there. There will be breaks for small tax credits for small businesses and restaurants. That’s all going to be there.”

In addition, the White House supports extending the four-month eviction moratorium that is scheduled to expire at the end of July, Kudlow said.

What’s not going to be in the Republican proposal, however, is aid for state and local governments, which the Democrats set aside $875 billion for.

Nor will there be a continuation of the full $600 federal unemployment benefit under the plan.

Because the expanded benefits are scheduled to expire this week, administration officials suggested that an extension be approved quickly, as well as a few other areas such as protecting businesses against coronavirus-related lawsuits.

“We can move very quickly with the Democrats on these issues,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We’ve moved quickly before and I see no reason why we can’t move quickly again. And if there are issues that take longer, we’ll deal with those as well.”

But broad liability limits, a long-sought goal of the business community, are anathema to congressional Democrats, though they have not ruled out some targeted protections.

“You don’t go into a negotiation with a red line,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “But you do go in with your values.”

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said that the Republican bill, instead of offering $600 a week in extra unemployment benefits, would ensure that workers get 70% of their regular pay. In N.J., the state currently pays out benefits at 60% of an employee’s salary, and unemployed workers have been receiving the $600 added benefit since late March.

“The original unemployment benefits actually paid people to stay home and actually a lot of people got more money staying at home than they would going back to work,” Meadows said on ABC’s “This Week.” “So the president has been very clear, our Republican senators have been very clear, we’re not going to extend that provision.”

House Democrats voted in May to keep the $600 payments through Jan. 31, 2021, but President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the legislation.

“They’re resenting $600 for single moms to be able to put food on the table, for dads to maintain the dignity of keeping their families intact, and with unemployment insurance, with assistance for rent, with food,” Pelosi said on CBS. “This is an emergency that maybe they don’t understand. I don’t know what they have against working families in America.”

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released last month said 58% percent of Americans supported extending the $600 benefit, while only 35% said they should end at the end of July.

Kudlow said that the other benefits in the Republican bill would offset the loss of any unemployment insurance payments.

“We want to pay folks to go back to work,” he said on CNN. “And, incidentally, we are going to have, on top of the cap of wages, 70 percent, which is quite generous by any standard, on top of that, we will have a re-employment bonus and a retention tax credit bonus for going back to work. So that’s going to more than offset any of this.”

Pelosi said the $600 across-the-board figure was designed to make it easy to provide the extra benefits.

“The reason we had $600 was its simplicity,” Pelosi said. “And figuring out 70 percent of somebody’s wages. People don’t all make a salary. Maybe they do. They make wages and they sometimes have it vary. So why don’t we just keep it simple?”

Indeed, state unemployment offices have struggled to handle the deluge of claims they’ve received during the pandemic, let alone take on the extra burden of calculating each recipient’s extra federal benefit based on his or her salary.

Meadows said the federal government would step in if necessary.

“It’s our goal to make sure that it’s not antiquated computers that keep people from getting their benefits,” he said.

There’s been a debate on whether the expanded unemployment insurance dissuaded workers from returning to their jobs.

“There are a lot of people who are not going back to work because they know it’s not safe,” said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., on CNN. “There’s also an awful lot of people that don’t have the jobs to go back to. So, I think that this is all about, essentially, a state of denial, that we should just get the economy back and everything is going to go away.”

In addition, the $600 payments helped prop up an economy that went into recession as a result of the coronavirus.

A study by the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive research group, said cutting the extra payment to $200 from $600 would cost New Jersey 98,607 jobs over the next year, as unemployed workers have less money to spend.

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