Coronavirus stimulus: Romney and other GOP senators propose extending extra unemployment benefits through 2020

Michael B. Kelley and Denitsa Tsekova
·4 mins read

U.S. Senators Mitt Romney (R-UT), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Martha McSally (R-AZ) introduced legislation on Wednesday that would extend the currently expired extra unemployment benefits (UI) through the end of the year.

“Unemployment benefits have now expired, and millions of unemployed workers are facing extreme financial uncertainty while Congress continues to negotiate the next relief package,” Senator Romney said in a statement. “Our solution extends the supplemental benefits through the end of the year and incentivizes states to update their UI processing systems. Let’s work together to make sure Americans don’t face additional burdens as a result of a sudden lapse in benefits.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Mitt Romney are seen after the Senate Republican Policy luncheon in Russell Building on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Mitt Romney are seen after the Senate Republican Policy luncheon in Russell Building on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

The proposal comes as Republicans and Democrats struggle to find common ground on a new stimulus package as millions of jobless Americans will not receive any unemployment benefits beyond what their states allow. July 25 or July 26 was the last time most workers got the extra $600.

The new legislation would allow states to extend $500 in extra UI per week for August (or $400 per week if the state prefers not to change the payment amount again in September), provide $400 per week in September, and provide 80% wage replacement or seek a waiver for $300 per week in extra UI for October through December.

The same group of senators previously proposed legislation that would have allowed states to choose between reducing the unemployment benefits to an 80% wage replacement rate or gradually reducing the extra benefits to $500 per week in August, $400 per week in September, or $300 per week in October.

The $2.2 trillion CARES Act provided an extra $600 in unemployment benefits that were set to expire at the end of July. The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act, which would have extended extra UI benefits among other stimulus measures, through the end of the year. The Senate never considered the HEROES Act.

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‘A lot of people are going to be evicted’

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that he will support a stimulus deal agreed upon by the Trump administration and the Democrats as Republicans struggle to unify amid the second week of ongoing negotiations over the next coronavirus stimulus bill.

It’s unclear how invested the White House is in negotiations with Democrats — White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin are involved in talks — or if the president will instead attempt unilateral action.

The Washington Post reported that the White House is considering executive orders involving renewing the federal eviction moratorium, suspending the collection of payroll taxes, and applying unused funding towards extra unemployment benefits.

“A lot of people are going to be evicted, but I’m going to stop it because I’ll do it myself if I have to,” President Donald Trump said on Monday. “I have a lot of powers with respect to executive orders, and we’re looking at that very seriously right now.”

It's also unclear how far executive orders can go. Earlier on Tuesday, White House Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow stated: "We have got to fix and extend the unemployment issue right now... I don't think that can be done administratively. I think that requires an act of Congress.”

(Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)
(Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

In any case, McConnell conceded that Republicans cannot seem to agree on a negotiating position.

“If you’re looking for total consensus among Republican senators, you’re not gonna find it,” McConnell said when asked on what the future of the extra unemployment benefits should be. “We do have divisions, about what to do.”

The proposal from Sens. Romney, Collins, and McSally comes as Republicans float several ideas, including one from Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

“Hardworking Americans who are unable to return to work by no fault of their own should not be penalized because Congress is still negotiating the next coronavirus relief package,” Senator McSally said.

“Unfortunately, dysfunction in Washington is at an all time high. ... This longer-term proposal for unemployment provides support for people still unable to work, while incentivizing workers to fill jobs that are out there. It will also encouraging states to improve their processing systems, so individuals can get relief they need in a timely fashion.”

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