The $600 weekly enhanced unemployment benefit passed under the CARES Act is set to expire Friday at midnight. With the clock ticking down to the expiration of the aid that tens of millions of Americans have considered a lifeline amid the coronavirus pandemic, and the GOP's HEALS Act nowhere near reaching approval, the GOP has proposed a last-minute extension to the unemployment benefits.
On Thursday, U.S. Sens. Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, and Martha McSally introduced the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2020, which would "prevent Americans from experiencing a sudden lapse in their supplemental benefits." The legislation seeks to allow states to choose between reducing the unemployment benefits to an 80% wage replacement rate or gradually reduce the $600 enhanced benefit to $500 per week in August, $400 per week in September, or $300 per week in October. The proposal also provides an additional $2 billion for states to update their user interface systems, which many lawmakers have said are antiquated, making the distribution of benefits more difficult.
"Unemployed workers should not be left in limbo while Congress continues to negotiate the next relief package," Romney said in a statement. "Our solution extends the supplemental benefits for three months and incentivizes states to update their UI processing systems. We should act with urgency to help the millions of Americans who are on the verge of losing these additional benefits."
In her own statement, Collins said that "we must avoid a sharp drop in benefits that would cause further harm to families that have been hit hard by the pandemic." She said that introduced the phased approach presented in the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2020 would continue to provide crucial help to unemployed Americans while also not dissuading them from returning to work, as many Republicans have theorized the current $600 weekly benefit does.
The legislation was proposed shortly after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested that smaller bills could form in an effort to target the most pressing issues, such as unemployment benefits, as negotiations regarding the HEALS Act continue. Speaking with PBS NewsHour Wednesday, McConnell said that "we're looking at all options" when asked if he was seriously considering a smaller bill or a short-term option.
However, despite those remarks and the recent proposal from Romney, Collins, and McScally, unemployment benefits will expire at midnight Friday, as the Senate adjourned Thursday night without reaching a deal. The Senate will reconvene Monday at 3 p.m. ET.