Senior Trump administration officials have begun signaling their willingness to approve a narrow extension of the enhanced unemployment benefits helping tens of millions of jobless Americans hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.
….One potential compromise discussed by Republican lawmakers would involve cutting the unemployment benefit from $600 per week to between $200 and $400 per week and making up at least part of the difference by sending another round of $1,200 stimulus payments, these people said.
….White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement that the administration is opposed to the $600-per-week increase but would not rule out the administration agreeing to a more limited expansion of the benefit. Maintaining unemployment insurance benefits at current levels “does not incentivize returning to work,” Deere said in an email. “UI reform is a priority for this White House in any phase four package and we are in ongoing discussions with the Hill.”
It’s not that the disincentive to work is hogwash. It really is true that the $600 UI bonus is big enough that it makes total UI benefits bigger than normal pay for a lot of low-income workers. But this only matters when people are using it as a reason not to work. Right now, COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing, mortality is rising, and states are shutting down again. That’s why people aren’t going back to work.
In any case, I’d be willing to compromise on a $400 bonus plus a new round of stimulus checks. The UI bonus is more tightly focused on people out of work, but the stimulus checks go out to everyone, which makes up for some of the folks genuinely in need but who don’t qualify for UI. It’s not a bad combination.
The important thing, though, is to get moving on this. We already know that states need time to get their UI machinery going and Treasury needs time to print stimulus checks. It’s stupid to make millions of people wait and wonder if they can pay next month’s rent while Congress dithers. Do it now.