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$600 boost for unemployment benefit extension still being debated – CNET

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The $600 weekly unemployment bonus is over. What’s next?
Sarah Tew/CNET

July 31 marked the end of the CARES Act’s $600 federal weekly unemployment benefit — and there’s no replacement or extension yet in place. More than two months after the Democratic-led House passed a bill to extend the benefit, Senate Republicans on July 27 proposed a new stimulus package. Called the HEALS Act, it’d reduce the CARES Act’s weekly $600 extra unemployment benefit to $200 until Oct. 5. From that point, until the end of the year, federal assistance would combine with states’ unemployment support to provide roughly 70% of an individual’s previous wages.

The weekly $600 benefit, part of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, was a popular feature of the initial coronavirus relief legislation package that extended federal unemployment aid to help those affected by the pandemic. With the HEALS Act (which stands for Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools) officially proposed, Democrats and Republicans are working through a political stalemate.

Update: The current political context and outlook

On July 29, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and President Donald Trump spoke with reporters about the current status of a deal with Democrats.

“As of now, we’re very far apart and because of that the president and we have discussed a short-term extension to UI [unemployment insurance] and the evictions so that we have some period to negotiate before it runs out,” Mnuchin said.

California lawmakers are currently working on a plan to have the state provide the extra $600 as negotiations continue in Congress, according to the Los Angeles Times on July 28.

Read more: Coronavirus unemployment: Who is covered, how to apply and how much it pays

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday confirmed both Democrats and Republicans are on the same page on the second stimulus check, but not on the $600 enhanced unemployment.

“We have been for the $600,” she said on ABC’s This Week. “They have a $200 proposal which does not meet the needs of working families. But the $600 is essential. It’s essential for America’s working families. And, again, to condescend, to disrespect their motivation is so amazing, how insistent the Republicans are about a working family and their $600 and how cavalier they are about other money that is going out.”

In a caucus call Monday, Pelosi said there likely won’t be a deal this week, according to a tweet from Politico reporter Heather Caygle.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said Tuesday he’s open to reinstating the $600 weekly bonus.

“The American people, in the end, need help, and wherever this thing settles between the president of the United States and his team that has to sign it into law and the Democrat not-insignificant minority in the Senate and majority in the House is something I am prepared to support, even if I have some problems with certain parts of it,” he told reporters, according to The New York Times.

Trump tweeted Thursday that his staff is working on an executive order regarding payroll tax, evictions, student loans and unemployment extensions.

Friday saw negotiations between Democrats and Republicans fall apart after a “disappointing” meeting as described by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer according to a report from CNBC.

“I’ve told them come back when you are ready to give us a higher number,” House Speaker Pelosi told reporters.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Friday they will recommend Trump move forward with an executive order to deal with enhanced unemployment, evictions and student loans. No timeline was provided, but they said they would be moving “as quickly as we can.”

What efforts are underway to extend enhanced unemployment benefits?

Congressional Democrats have continued to push for an extension of unemployment benefits. The Heroes Act, passed by the House of Representatives in May but not taken up by the Senate, would have extended the FPUC to Jan. 31, 2021. It would have also paved the way for a second stimulus payment.

The Worker Relief and Security Act, proposed by Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet and Jack Reed and Rep. Don Beyer, would extend unemployment benefits until Trump declares the state of emergency for COVID-19 is over. At that point, benefits would continue for another 30 days and then come to a close. Those still on unemployment would still receive weekly funds, but the amount would be reduced over the course of 13 weeks depending on the unemployment rate of each state.

Both proposals have been opposed by Republicans, including Sen. McConnell. GOP leaders have taken issue with the enhanced unemployment, saying it discourages workers from returning to their jobs. Sen. Lindsey Graham said in April that reauthorization of the unemployment benefits would get passed “over our dead bodies.” McConnell said on July 6 that the next relief bill could contain a second stimulus check for those making $40,000 a year or less.

Mnuchin told Bloomberg on June 23 that there are discussions for another stimulus bill. He said, however, it would focus on the businesses most affected by the pandemic.

On July 1, Senate Democrats introduced a bill to extend unemployment aid until March. The money made available would be tied to the state’s unemployment rate. When a state’s three-month average unemployment rate goes below 11%, the amount of aid would be reduced by $100 until the average gets under 6%.

What is the HEALS Act?

The White House and Senate Republicans have now agreed on the terms of an aid package. The proposal, called the HEALS Act , was introduced by McConnell on July 27. The $1 trillion package addresses several programs created or modified by the CARES Act such as unemployment insurance, the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Income Payments.

Not all the details were made available right away, but the GOP has proposed reducing the enhanced unemployment benefit from $600 per week to $200. Then, in September, the benefit would be adjusted and combined with the states’ unemployment offerings to equal 70% of a worker’s wage.

If Congress decides to reinstate a federal unemployment benefit bonus — in any amount — it will likely take two to four weeks for payments to flow to states and then recipients, according to the Economic Policy Institute. So far, the proposal has been introduced only in the Senate. Democratic congressional leaders are currently negotiating with the GOP on the particulars of the plan.

What is the CARES Act?

Congress passed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act in March to help Americans and US businesses after cities began locking down due to the pandemic. Included in the package was additional unemployment aid for people who lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

Since shelter-in-place rules were put in place, tens of millions of Americans have received the extra federal unemployment aid. With states providing between $235 and $1,220 per week in assistance, the additional $600 per week has been a major component of many people’s financial lifeline.

Who was eligible for enhanced unemployment?

If you’ve been laid off or furloughed, you’re eligible to apply for unemployment benefits from the state where you live. Once the state approves your claim, you’re eligible to receive whatever state benefits you’re entitled to. Because states cover 30% to 50% of a person’s wages — some states provide more while others offer less — the extra $600 from the federal government was added on to help fill the gap.

How does the CARES Act help people who have been laid off or furloughed?

Each state has its own criteria for who is eligible to receive unemployment — and what those benefits entail. This includes how much money you’re eligible to receive, which is usually based on your income and how long you’re eligible to receive it, which is usually based on how long you held your most recent job. The CARES Act provided a booster fund — adding up to $600 extra per week — while also extending states’ unemployment benefits to a maximum of 39 weeks instead of the typical 26 weeks.

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Republicans want to reduce the $600 extra unemployment benefit, which expired on July 31.
James Martin/CNET

How are unemployment benefits calculated?

The state determines how much each applicant will receive, usually based on an individual’s gross income. It varies from state to state but is typically between $300 and $600.

How can I find out if I’m eligible for unemployment benefits?

Eligibility criteria vary from state to state, but the general rule is that you should apply if you’ve lost your job or been furloughed through no fault of your own. This would include a job lost directly or indirectly to the current pandemic.

How are different states handling this?

Again, the benefit duration and amount varies. Most states provide up to 26 weeks of funding, though others, such as Georgia, limit benefits to 12 weeks. On the other hand, Delaware will provide benefits for up to 30 weeks. The weekly benefit amount depends on an applicant’s gross income when they were employed and ranges between $300 and $600, with some exceptions. Mississippi pays up to $235, while Massachusetts’ maximum is $1,220.

Where can I find more information about my state’s policy?

Each state’s labor office provides more information about its particular unemployment benefits.

How does the CARES Act help people who are self-employed?

The CARES Act also created the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides benefits to individuals who would not normally be eligible for unemployment benefits from the states such as gig workers, freelancers, independent contractors and small business owners whose income has been affected by the pandemic. Under the CARES Act, PUA funding will be available until Dec. 31, 2020.

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