Senate Finance Chair Plans to 'Fight Like Hell' to Extend Jobless Benefits an Extra Month

by Maurie Backman | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on March 5, 2021

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A line of people standing in front of a building labeled Job Center.

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Sen. Ron Wyden says ending unemployment benefits in August versus September could be disastrous.

Lawmakers are trying to push a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief proposal forward. So far, that relief bill has passed a House vote and now needs Senate approval to get signed into law.

But one Democratic senator isn't happy about the way unemployment benefits will be dished out under the bill. In fact, Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden says it's a "prescription for trouble" to end jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed on Aug. 29, which is what the House bill calls for.

Cutting off jobless benefits a month early could leave many in the lurch

Originally, when President Joe Biden laid out the details of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan, enhanced unemployment benefits were extended through the end of September. But that never made it into the House bill. Instead, the House bill only extends that aid through the end of August -- and Wyden has a problem with that for one key reason: Congress is usually in recess during that time.

Many jobless workers will be left with a serious income shortfall if U.S. unemployment levels remain high come late August and lawmakers aren't around to vote on an extension of benefits. It's for this reason that extending enhanced benefits through the end of September makes a lot more sense, Wyden argues. In fact, he's stated he plans to "fight like hell" to push that date back a month.

Not only does Wyden want to see unemployment benefits extended an extra month, but he has also pressured the president to support legislation that would automatically issue stimulus checks and jobless benefits on an ongoing, as-needed basis. That way, lawmakers won't have to vote on relief measures over and over again.

Meanwhile, Wyden has stated that while he would have preferred a broader round of $1,400 stimulus checks as part of the new relief bill, he's okay with a recent change to lower the income cutoff levels for eligibility.

Originally, stimulus checks were set to be cut off for individuals earning $100,000 or more, heads of household earning $150,000 or more, and married couples earning $200,000. This week, Biden announced that he'll back a set of lower income cutoffs -- $80,000 for individuals, $120,000 for heads of household, and $160,000 for married couples.

Biden's move comes after weeks of pressure from Republicans, who have consistently called for more targeted aid. At one point, they even suggested reserving future stimulus funds for the jobless only. But as of now, low- and moderate-income households who are still collecting a paycheck from work will in fact be entitled to more money.

Lawmakers are eager to see the next relief bill signed into law before March 14, because that's the date enhanced unemployment benefits are currently set to expire for millions of Americans. That means a lot of people could see stimulus funds hit their bank accounts within weeks. It also means Wyden will need to aggressively make his case if he wants unemployment benefits to last that extra month.

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