Although many businesses are beginning to reopen, millions of Americans are still unemployed or at risk of being laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. An additional 1.5 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, with nearly 45 million workers filing for unemployment insurance since mid-March.
Under the CARES Act, unemployed workers can collect an extra $600 per week in federal benefits in addition to state unemployment benefits. However, these extra benefits will only be distributed through the end of July. At that point, the extra $600 per week will vanish from your unemployment checks if Congress doesn't take action.
There's a heated debate within Congress right now as to what to do about unemployment benefits. Some government officials are pushing to continue the $600 per week, while others have a different solution. While nobody knows exactly what will happen by the end of July, here are some of the possibilities.
Proposal No. 1: Extend the federal $600 per week unemployment benefit
Last month, the House of Representatives passed a second stimulus bill called the HEROES Act. This bill included a second round of stimulus checks and also proposed extending the extra $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits through January 2021.
There are pros and cons to this proposal. If the $600 per week benefit is extended through January 2021, approximately five in six unemployment recipients would be receiving more in benefits than they would earn by working, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Those who are against this benefit extension say the extra $600 per week discourages unemployed workers from looking for another job if they could earn more by collecting benefits.
Those in favor of the extension, however, argue that when people have more disposable income, they're likely to spend more money -- which would serve to strengthen the economy.
Proposal No. 2: Provide a "back to work" incentive
One potential solution to the problem of workers choosing to continue collecting benefits rather than go back to work is to provide a "back to work" bonus. This GOP proposal, led by Republican Senator Rob Portman, aims to encourage workers to go back to work by giving them a $450-per-week incentive in addition to their regular wages.
This proposal has its fans and its critics as well. Those who support the proposal say it's a good way to ensure as many people as possible are working. Critics, though, argue that it encourages people to go back to work during a pandemic and potentially put their health (and the health of others) at risk.
Proposal No. 3: Offer a more tailored approach to benefits
A third proposal is the Worker Relief and Security Act, which would create a more tailored approach to how benefits are distributed. Under this proposal, unemployed workers can continue to collect the extra $600 per week in federal benefits until the coronavirus pandemic is no longer considered a national or state emergency. After that, benefits will gradually decrease over the next 13 weeks.
Those who live in states with higher-than-average unemployment rates, though, will continue to receive extra unemployment support even after extreme social distancing measures are concluded. Once COVID-19 is no longer considered a national emergency, unemployed workers in these states can continue collecting $450 per week in federal benefits for 13 weeks. Then, if the state is still experiencing a higher-than-average unemployment rate, jobless workers can receive $300 per week in benefits in addition to their state unemployment benefits.
What does the future of unemployment benefits look like?
With the $600 benefit running out in a few weeks, Congress is scrambling to decide what to do next. The HEROES Act is currently in the Senate's hands, and while it's unlikely to pass, the Senate could develop its own stimulus bill with adjustments to unemployment.
Congress is currently negotiating the next stimulus bill, and likely won't settle on anything until July or August. So until then, the future of unemployment benefits is up in the air.