by Maurie Backman | Feb. 12, 2021
If more jobless aid doesn't come through, a large number of Americans could be in for a world of financial pain.
Though the U.S. unemployment rate has steadily declined since reaching a record high in April of 2020, it's still nowhere close to pre-pandemic levels. A lot of people are still out of work, especially in industries hit hard by the pandemic, like restaurants, hotels, and entertainment.
Thankfully, aid has been available for the jobless. In December, a second coronavirus relief bill was passed into law that extended two important yet temporary federal programs -- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PUA and PEUC). Previously, those programs were set to expire the day after Christmas.
But December's relief bill only extended those programs through March 14. And while some jobless workers -- those who don't exhaust their allotted benefits by mid-March -- can continue collecting benefits until April 11, from there, they're out of luck.
All told, a whopping 10.6 million Americans are set to lose unemployment benefits by mid-April without additional relief, according to a new analysis by The Century Foundation. That's clearly bad news. The good news, however, is that it may not come to that.
Cutting off unemployment aid to well over 10 million people is clearly a recipe for disaster. But thankfully, lawmakers have made it clear they're not willing to let that happen. In fact, Democrats are moving forward with President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion relief package, which includes boosted and extended unemployment benefits, plus a round of $1,400 stimulus checks.
Originally, Biden called for boosted and extended unemployment benefits through the end of September. This week, the House Ways and Means Committee proposed extending those benefits through Aug. 29 instead. While that's less time than Biden's initial late-September extension, it does look like jobless workers will be in line for not just extended relief, but an extra $400 a week in unemployment on top of their state benefits.
Some Republican lawmakers have expressed concern that too generous an unemployment boost disincentivizes workers' reentering the labor force. When lawmakers argued over a second stimulus package last summer, one major sticking point was that Democrats wanted to maintain the $600 weekly unemployment boost the CARES Act provided, and Republicans didn't.
The latest relief package won't include a $600 weekly boost, but rather a $400 boost, more of a compromise. That said, there's evidence that jobless people did continue to look for work even while collecting an extra $600 a week.
Either way, Republicans ultimately may not get much of a say. Democrats are moving to push their relief legislation forward through a process known as reconciliation, which will require no Republican support at all. Ultimately, their goal is to provide meaningful relief as quickly as possible without the hold-ups that come with extensive negotiations.
Nancy Pelosi remarked that we could see a third stimulus bill signed into law by early March. If that's the case, not only will jobless workers not have to worry about a gap in unemployment benefits, but millions of Americans will soon be in line for more stimulus money in their bank accounts.
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