As congressional lawmakers reconvened on Capitol Hill Monday to begin negotiations on what could be the final stimulus package, one of the key topics of discussion was set to be unemployment benefits. As dozens of states continue to see a surge in coronavirus cases, the additional $600 a week in unemployment benefits that had been passed under the CARES Act — and has proven controversial — is nearing its end, currently set to expire on Friday, July 31 if not extended.
The U.S. Congress first conceived of the $600 unemployment enhancement when they began discussing the first coronavirus relief package, which was signed by President Donald Trump on March 27. Along with direct stimulus payments to most American households, the CARES Act also provided an additional $600 per week to all unemployment checks, regardless of their initial value. That benefit, however, did not receive widespread support, as it was estimated that two-thirds of laid-off workers were receiving more money from their unemployment benefits than they did from their jobs, according to Market Watch. As a result, efforts to have the benefit extended have largely been criticized.
Many Democrats are calling for the benefit to be extended, with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's proposed relief package, the HEROES Act, calling for the benefit to be extended in its full amount through January of 2021. This proposal, however, has sparked arguments that it would deter people from returning to work, as the Congressional Budget Office has found that if these benefits were extended through January 2021, an estimated five of every six recipients would receive more in benefits than they would from working those six months. Proponents, however, have argued that the funds help boost the still hindered economy and state benefits without the extra $600 do not meet the needs of those with food, rent, and other expenses.
Although they had previously been resistant to the idea, some calling for back-to-work bonuses in place of further unemployment benefits and a second round of stimulus checks, GOP leaders are reportedly considering extending the benefit. According to the Washington Post, Republicans are allegedly said to be considering additional unemployment benefits between $200 and $400 per week. The outlet reported that the lower end of that figure seems to be the most probable measure to be included in the next relief package.
At this time, details of the next relief package remain unclear, with conflicting reports arising regarding what could be included. Congressmen reconvened on Monday to begin negotiations and are expected to make a push to pass legislation by Friday, Aug. 7, after which they will enter another recess.