by Maurie Backman | Jan. 16, 2021
Millions of Americans are still out of work. Biden's new proposal seeks to help them.
Millions of Americans have lost their jobs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. While the unemployment rate has dropped since reaching a record high last April, joblessness is still rampant. In fact, last week, first-time jobless claims totaled 965,000. That's way worse than the 800,000 analysts were expecting and substantially higher than the previous week's total of 784,000 claims.
Thankfully, President-elect Joe Biden recognizes the severity of the situation. His latest stimulus proposal calls for a major boost to unemployment benefits. And that's a bit of good news for those Americans who are still struggling in the absence of the paychecks they once relied on.
Biden, who unveiled details of his relief plans yesterday, says he's committed to providing meaningful aid to the public within his first 100 days of office. To that end, he's proposed a relief bill that includes $1,400 stimulus checks, changes to the Child Tax Credit, a new $15 federal minimum wage, and boosted unemployment. Specifically, jobless workers will be entitled to an additional $400 a week on top of their normal state benefits. They'll also be entitled to that aid through September.
The $900 billion relief measure passed into law in late December includes a $300 weekly boost to unemployment through the middle of March. Biden now seeks to increase that weekly boost by an additional $100 and for an additional six months.
Now, that $400 weekly boost is less than the $600 weekly supplement jobless workers received under the CARES Act. Signed into law in March 2020, the first stimulus legislation provided enhanced benefits for the jobless through late July 2020. But lawmakers have since argued a $600 weekly boost is too high and it disincentivizes unemployed individuals from seeking work. The reason? That $600 a week actually gave some unemployed people what amounted to a raise. Boosting jobless benefits by $400 will hopefully provide unemployed workers enough income to cover their expenses while also keeping them motivated to accept job offers that come their way.
Biden's plan to extend unemployment benefits until the end of September is equally important. That extension would apply to self-employed and gig workers, too, who normally aren't entitled to unemployment benefits at all during non-pandemic times.
Biden is also seeking to automatically adjust the length and amount of boosted unemployment benefits based on economic conditions. That way, lawmakers won't have to keep voting on relief measures. If the economy, for example, takes a turn for the worse in the next few months, that automatic extension could potentially allow enhanced jobless benefits to remain in place past September.
Right now, Biden's stimulus proposal is merely that -- a proposal. It will require Senate approval to be passed into law. But given Democrats now control the Senate, there's a greater chance of that happening fairly quickly. That said, if enough Democrats oppose the bill, we could be in for months of negotiations, similar to the ones we saw last year, to pass the recent $900 billion bill.
Still, Biden has made it clear he's committed to providing aid for those who need it the most. Many jobless workers have lost income and already drained their savings accounts to pay for essential bills. As such, enhanced unemployment could be a lifeline at a time when the economy is still in a very bad place.
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