McConnell, Schumer far apart on unemployment benefits, stimulus proposals

Personal Finance

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, talks with reporters following the weekly Republican Senate conference meeting at the U.S. Capitol Dec. 1. The Senate GOP leaders were asked about the chances of Congress passing another coronavirus relief bill along with must-pass government funding legislation.

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McConnell stimulus

Democrats and Republicans in Congress — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. — issued a flurry of proposals on Tuesday.

Attaching relief measures to a spending bill that must pass by Dec. 11 to avert a government shutdown seems the most likely route for success, experts believe.

McConnell’s plan would extend unemployment benefits by a month through two temporary programs created by the CARES Act.

However, it wouldn’t offer a supplement to weekly unemployment benefits — an approach that differs from a plan he issued in September, which gave workers a $300 weekly subsidy.

The CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion relief law passed in March, gave unemployed workers an extra $600 a week on top of their typical benefit. It expired in July.

Absent a weekly supplement, the average jobless American would have received $318 a week in benefits in October, according to the Labor Department.

In addition, the CARES Act offered jobless benefits to self-employed, gig, freelance and other workers traditionally ineligible for state unemployment insurance. The law also offered up to 13 extra weeks of aid to workers collecting state benefits.

Both programs are scheduled to end the last weekend in December. Around 12 million workers would lose their benefits if the programs lapse, according to a recent analysis published by the Century Foundation, a progressive group.

McConnell’s proposal would allow workers to apply for program benefits until the end of January. At that point, anyone receiving aid could do so up to the end of March.

The Republican leader has supported about $500 billion in new aid spending and said he prefers a smaller, “targeted” relief bill. McConnell said he spoke with White House officials about what President Donald Trump would sign into law.

His proposal also includes money for small businesses and child care and offers liability protections for businesses, among other things.

Before unveiling his plan, McConnell on Tuesday shot down a $908 billion stimulus compromise reached by a bipartisan group of House and Senate members. That plan offered a $300 weekly boost in benefits through March.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, holds a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 1, 2020 in Washington.

Tasos Katopodis | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Schumer stimulus

Meanwhile, Schumer, along with four other Democratic senators, introduced a bill on Tuesday that, relative to McConnell’s proposal, offers more benefits to the unemployed.

The Democrats would reinstate the $600 weekly boost for all unemployed workers through October 2021. Some workers would be able to collect the $600 subsidy until early January 2022, according to the proposal.  

The legislation — the American Worker Holiday Relief Act — would offer the benefit retroactively to weeks of joblessness dating to Sep. 5, 2020.

Further, the Senate Democrats would give self-employed, gig and other workers in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program up to 65 weeks of total benefits — almost double the current 39 weeks. They could get more if states still have high levels of unemployment.

The Democrats would also extend Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which is the CARES Act program offering extra weeks of state unemployment insurance.

Workers could get up to 39 weeks of PEUC benefits — more than the current 13 weeks. They’d be eligible for additional weeks in states where the three-month average unemployment rate is above 6.5% — up to 78 total weeks when the rate exceeds 8.5%.

Roughly 9 million workers are collecting benefits through the PUA program and 4.5 million through PEUC.

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