The economic aid package that Senate Democrats are currently negotiating with the White House includes a significant expansion of unemployment benefits for Americans who have lost jobs or been furloughed due to the coronavirus crisis. But it’s not quite what Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has described publicly. Depending on who you are, it might actually be a better deal.
In remarks on the Senate floor, Schumer said his negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin had reached the “two-yard line” and included “unemployment insurance on steroids,” in which the “the federal government will pay your salary, your full salary for now four months.”
That is not actually how the program will work. The current draft bill, which was sent to me by a Democratic policy aide, offers jobless Americans a flat weekly payment of $600 on top of the ordinary unemployment benefits they would usually receive, for up to four months. It also extends regular unemployment insurance for an extra 13 weeks and makes more former workers eligible. The spending is federally funded. Another Democratic aide familiar with the negotiations summed it up this way:
We have expanded the universe of people who qualify for UI (people who are furloughed, gig workers, freelancers … ), and we have increased the benefit by $600 per week for four months (that’s in addition to whatever their state would give them as a base salary for being on unemployment). Also expanded UI by 13 weeks.
What this means is that a lot of low-wage workers will end up getting more money through unemployment than they previously were earning on the job. Perhaps not coincidentally, $600 a week is what you would earn working 40 hours a week at $15 per hour (pretax). And again, that’s in addition to normal unemployment insurance. For a lot of restaurant and retail workers who’ve been furloughed or laid off as a result of the crisis, it’s a pretty excellent deal. On the flip side, some higher earners who lost their jobs probably won’t have their full salaries replaced, as Schumer seemed to suggest.
Aside from the beefed-up unemployment benefits, the new draft bill includes a more generous plan to send most American families a check, whether they’re working or not. It would provide households with $1,200 per adult and $500 per child child for anyone making less than $75,000 and phases down for higher earners. Senate Republicans were widely criticized for shafting the poor in their original proposal, which offered smaller payments to low-income families and nothing to tax filers who earned less than $2,500 last year.
Anyway, Democrats said that increasing unemployment benefits was their top priority going into negotiations over this bill, which originally did not include any significant expansion. I think it’s fair to say they’ve succeeded. As a result of their efforts, a lot of lower- and middle-income Americans are about to receive a life vest made of cash to help them survive this crisis.