Debate over $600 in jobless aid to intensify as claims rise

Restaurant worker Madelyn Figgers stands in front of her porch Wednesday, May 27, 2020, in Richmond, Va. Figgers lost her job doing the coronavirus shutdown and is hoping to go to work when the city starts reopening next week. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Restaurant worker Madelyn Figgers stands in front of her porch Wednesday, May 27, 2020, in Richmond, Va. Figgers lost her job doing the coronavirus shutdown and is hoping to go to work when the city starts reopening next week. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON – A debate in Congress over whether to extend $600 a week in federally provided benefits to the unemployed looks sure to intensify with the number of people receiving the aid now topping 30 million — one in five workers.

The money, included in a government relief package enacted in March, is set to expire July 31. Yet with the unemployment rate widely expected to still be in the mid-teens by then, members of both parties will face pressure to compromise on some form of renewed benefits for the jobless.

Democrats have proposed keeping the $600-a-week payments through January in a $3 trillion relief package that the House approved this month along party lines. Senate Republicans oppose that measure. They have expressed concern that the federal payments — which come on top of whatever unemployment aid a state provides — would discourage laid-off people from returning to jobs that pay less than their combined state and federal unemployment aid now does.

So far there are no formal negotiations on another relief package. But analysts say the need to address the fate of the $600 weekly benefits could force a resolution of the issue this summer.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, are promoting a plan that would provide $450 a week for laid-off workers who return to their jobs, as a “back to work” bonus. This payment would also expire by July 31, though.

Larry Kudlow, the top White House economic adviser, said earlier this week that the proposal is “something we're looking at very carefully.”

Separately, Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., vice chair of the Joint Economic Committee, has proposed reducing the $600 benefit to $300 in stages by the end of the year. This plan, Beyer suggested in an interview, would sharply reduce the number of people who are receiving more money from jobless aid than they would from working.

“If you solve that problem, there’s a good chance of extending unemployment," Beyer said.