It’s a move that could further delay the passage of the $2 trillion package, which senators and the White House negotiated in marathon sessions over five days to provide rapid financial relief for workers, small businesses, and affected industries.
The core of the senators’ complaint is something they’re referring to as a “drafting error,” even though it was an intentionally crafted part of the legislation. They worry that the amount of money guaranteed by the bill’s expansion of unemployment insurance surpasses how much some workers make on a weekly basis at their current jobs.
They say that the expanded funds — though they would only be temporary — disincentivize workers from keeping or returning to those jobs. (It’s worth noting that people who leave their jobs voluntarily without good cause would not be eligible for unemployment insurance in the first place.)
“This bill pays you more not to work than if you were working,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who along with Republican Sens. Ben Sasse (NE), Tim Scott (SC), and Rick Scott (FL) expressed concerns about the amount of money workers would be able to secure from unemployment insurance. They’re pushing for a vote on an amendment that would cap the amount of unemployment support workers could receive so it’s limited to 100 percent of their previous salaries.
As currently agreed upon, the unemployment insurance provision of the bill guarantees a major expansion of the program — a move that lawmakers see as necessary given the sizable layoffs that have already taken place as a result of businesses shuttering to combat the coronavirus and the many more that could follow. According to a Moody’s Analytics estimate provided to Fortune, there could be as many as 6 million workers who become unemployed in March alone.
As Vox’s Dylan Matthews reports, the unemployment insurance in the Senate deal would ensure that every recipient receives an additional $600 a week. On average, a person on unemployment insurance currently receives $385 per week, so this boost is significant. Those claiming unemployment insurance would be able to secure this expanded support for up to four months.
Graham and other Republican opponents fear that these funds — though they’ll be temporary — will be enough to disincentivize workers from either staying or returning to their jobs when the coronavirus crisis is over.
As a Republican aide told The Hill, lawmakers opted to do an across-the-board increase of unemployment insurance because every state has a different set-up for how to implement its program, and the proposed policy — if universal — could be executed more quickly. Additionally, the aide noted, a person that voluntarily leaves their job is not eligible for unemployment insurance, which people can only claim if they’ve been “unemployed through no fault of your own,” according to the Department of Labor.
The position of this group of Republicans is also one that fails to consider just how much workers are hurting because of the economic fallout that’s resulted from the coronavirus and the much-needed public health measures that are being taken to curb its spread. It’s also one that seems to disregard the temporary nature of the program, which is designed explicitly to make sure that workers could continue to cover basic costs if they’ve been laid off or if they need to stay home and aren’t able to work because of the coronavirus during this specific time.
The senators’ efforts could cause delays in the upper chamber’s passage of the coronavirus stimulus. They don’t seem to have the votes necessary to actually stop the stimulus from being passed, but for now, the lawmakers say they’d like consideration of their amendment before a vote on the final package, a move that could mean the bill isn’t able to get fast-tracked through the Senate just yet.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has also said he’ll put a hold on the legislation, and press for stricter restrictions on corporate assistance that’s included in the stimulus, if Republicans don’t drop their opposition.