Federal Unemployment Benefits Are Likely to Continue — But at Lower Amounts

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A photograph of the Capitol Building’s west side. Photo Credit: Martin Falbisoner

With the Senate back in Washington following a weeks-long Independence Day recess, negotiations for a possible second stimulus package have commenced in earnest. And while the legislation’s details are hardly finalized, those with knowledge of the discussions are indicating that the federal “unemployment bonus” may continue, albeit in a lesser amount.

Currently, federal unemployment benefits in the US – $600 weekly payments for jobless individuals, on top of state-level unemployment compensation – are set to expire at this month’s end. As the second stimulus package’s cost is a major concern for some fiscally conservative lawmakers (particularly in the Republican-controlled Senate), reports from anonymous congressional aides are stating that the bill will offer lessened federal unemployment benefits. These same sources have noted that the payments are likely to drop into the $200 to $400 range.

Although the lower-end figure – $200 – was cited as probable, sources to the Washington Post (as well as numerous political analysts) emphasized that ongoing negotiations could very well result in a different unemployment insurance plan. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is expected to unveil a draft of the stimulus legislation sometime this week.

It’s unclear where Senator McConnell stands on the issue of renewed federal unemployment benefits, but he’s said (in recent weeks and just moments ago, from the Oval Office) that he would like the new stimulus package to encompass liability protection for businesses, measures designed to help children safely return to school, healthcare benefits, and job assistance.

White House advisors have relayed on multiple occasions that President Trump wishes to see payroll tax cuts in the new stimulus legislation – and that his signature may hinge on the provision. And Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), for her part, is still calling on the Senate to ratify the $3 trillion Heroes Act, which passed through the House in May. Though it’s all but certain that the controversial Heroes Act lacks the votes required to pass the Senate – Senator McConnell declared the legislation “dead on arrival” – Speaker Pelosi’s push appears to be part of a larger effort to negotiate this second stimulus package.

To be sure, Speaker Pelosi has stated that the $1.3 trillion price tag targeted by Republicans is “not enough,” and that she’d prefer that the legislation be worth closer to $3 trillion, as in the Heroes Act. Needless to say, the $1.7 trillion or so gap between the plans (and disagreements concerning the distribution of funds) will impact ongoing negotiations and the substance of the bill itself.

In addition to federal unemployment benefits, this second relief package might offer a new stimulus check to those earning under $40,000 per year.

More as this develops.