A group of Republican senators on Wednesday threatened to delay the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package over a proposed increase to unemployment insurance.
In a statement, Sens. Tim Scott, R-S.C., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said that the bill could provide a “strong incentive for employees to be laid off instead of going to work” because some people could theoretically make more by being unemployed.
“This isn’t an abstract, philosophical point — it’s an immediate, real-world problem,” they continued. “If the federal government accidentally incentivizes layoffs, we risk life-threatening shortages in sectors where doctors, nurses, and pharmacists are trying to care for the sick, and where growers and grocers, truckers and cooks are trying to get food to families’ tables.”
They added, “We must sadly oppose the fast-tracking of this bill until this text is addressed, or the Department of Labor issues regulatory guidance that no American would earn more by not working than by working.”
While final details of the bill have yet to be released, Senate negotiators came to an agreement overnight that includes an additional $600 per week payment to each recipient of unemployment insurance.
NBC News notes that the unemployment benefit also extends to those who typically do not qualify, such as gig economy workers, furloughed employees and freelancers. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the boost “ensures that laid-off workers, on average, will receive their full pay for four months.”
At a press conference Wednesday, Graham, Scott, Sasse and fellow GOP Sen. Rick Scott of Florida said they hoped an amendment could be passed that would limit unemployment benefits to 100 percent of a worker’s salary.
“We’ll know in about an hour whether this is a drafting error,” Graham said.
“Our goal is to help this bill get to the finish line,” Scott of South Carolina said, adding that while he supports the bill, “We cannot encourage people to make more money in unemployment than they do in employment.”
“Nothing in this bill incentivizes businesses to lay off employees, in fact it’s just the opposite,” A Republican spokesperson for the Senate Finance Committee said. “The goal all along has been, first and foremost, to help businesses make payroll so employers don’t have to lay off employees, and to ensure that there’s a robust unemployment insurance program to help those who have lost their jobs.”
“Each state has a different UI program, so the drafters opted for a temporary across-the-board UI boost of $600 dollars, which can deliver needed aid in a timely manner rather than burning time to create a different administrative regime for each state,” the spokesperson continued. “This increase is designed to make the average worker whole. It’s also important to remember that nobody who voluntarily leaves an available job is eligible for UI.”