Proposed Back-to-Work Bonus, Explained

Among the many new forms of financial support and economic stimulus proposed to combat the effects of the coronavirus is a so-called "back-to-work bonus." The Trump administration and a growing number of Republican legislators are pushing for this idea, which would be intended to replace the $600-per-week unemployment enhancement. However, critics see a lot of faults in this proposal.

The back-to-work bonus is being billed as a replacement for the $600 unemployment boost included in the CARES Act, according to a report by CNBC. Since March, unemployment recipients have gotten an extra $600 per week via the federal government, but that program expires on July 31, and many Republicans say they will not vote to extend it. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow advocates instead for a cash bonus for everyone who finds a job during the coronavirus pandemic — incentivizing the American people to get back to work.

"The president is looking at a reform measure that would still provide some kind of bonus for returning to work, but it will not be as large and it will create an incentive to work," Kudlow said during an appearance on CNN.

Kudlow and other White House officials have not specified what the back-to-work bonus should look like in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, although other proposals are already out there. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, for example, advocates for payments of $450 per week to American who return to work right now. This would be added to the top of their paycheck, encouraging Americans to return to work in spite of the danger of contracting COVID-19.

Similarly, Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas suggests that anyone who finds and accepts a job offer during the pandemic should get their $600 unemployment enhancement for two weeks upon hiring, as opposed to the usual abrupt end of unemployment benefits. Brady referred to this as a $1,200 "hiring bonus" paid in two installments.

It would take some work to lay out how these proposals would work, and how they would extend past the July 31 expiration date of the CARES Act payments, especially if the regular unemployment enhancements did not. Meanwhile, Democrats have multiple proposals in circulation right now to extend the $600 unemployment enhancement until next year, or to reduce it gradually over time until the virus is over.


Republicans say that the $600 enhancement disincentivizes Americans to find a job right now, while critics say it is wrong to try to incentivize people to find a job during the pandemic when health and safety should be their number one concern.

Unemployment rates in April and May hit their highest point since the Great Depression. Right now, about 30 million Americans are reportedly collecting unemployment checks, and the loss of the $600 per month could be catastrophic for that huge swath of the population.