As Democrats and Republicans fail to reach an agreement on the recently revealed HEALS Act, the $600 weekly enhanced unemployment benefit is coming to end, leaving approximately 30 million Americans without a lifeline amid the coronavirus pandemic. Initially proposed and passed under the CARES Act, the benefit will expire on Friday at midnight, with the chance of a last-minute extension all but dead after the Senate adjourned Thursday night until Monday at 3 p.m. ET.
The expiration, which is sure to garner a heated reaction from the American people, comes as negotiations remain deadlocked, recent reports stating that Democrats and Republicans are "nowhere close to a deal." The GOP's proposal would slash the total weekly amount from $600 to just $200, or from $2,400 per month to $800. This would last through September, with a new formula being implemented in October that would cap unemployment benefits at 70% of a person's wages before they had lost their job.
Although many Republicans had viewed the benefit as a bonus that would dissuade some Americans from returning to work, as it had been estimated that many were receiving more on unemployment, Democrats had viewed it as a lifeline and were unwilling to negotiate on this aspect. Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, said that "the economists, the people who aren't political figures, told us … this is a five-alarm fire," according to The Hill.
As unemployment claims rose for the second week in a row, according to data released Thursday by the Labor Department, and as the expiration approached, lawmakers had hoped it would force an eleventh-hour agreement that was once commonplace on Capitol Hill. 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." Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also claimed that the Trump administration had proposed a short-term deal, though Democrats were not interested. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, questioned if the administration understood "the gravity of the problem."
"Even if we were to pass this measure, all the states — almost every state — says people would not get their unemployment for weeks and months. All because of the disunity, dysfunction of this Republican caucus, and of the leader, afraid to negotiate because he doesn't have his people behind him," Schumer said of the last-minute proposals.
At this time, unemployment benefits will expire Friday at midnight. The Senate is scheduled to reconvene Monday, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell having scheduled a debate for next week regarding unemployment benefits.