WASHINGTON, D. C. – As far as Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio is concerned, a coronavirus relief bill that Republicans plan to bring up for a Senate vote on Thursday is dead in the water because it would replace a $600 weekly federal unemployment supplement that expired in July with a $300 weekly payment that expires in December.
“The $600 a week saved millions of Americans from eviction, saved millions of Americans from poverty,” Brown said Wednesday in announcing that he won’t vote for the $500 billion coronavirus relief package that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled this week.
“This doesn’t just help unemployed workers, it helps people in the communities, it helps small businesses. Why McConnell doesn’t care about that is beyond me.”
Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio told reporters he’ll back the the package even though it doesn’t contain everything on his wish list because it includes many programs that Republicans and Democrats agree upon, like support for schools that are trying to operate during the pandemic and extending the Paycheck Protection Program that provides small business loans to companies with under 500 employees.
He called it a “good start” for negotiations and predicted the bill will only get the 60 votes it needs to proceed if Democrats “want to join us and say, ‘This isn’t perfect but it’s a good step in the right direction.’ ”
Portman said the $300 in extra weekly unemployment payments that President Donald Trump approved in August will expire sometime this fall, and something must be done to assist states.
Portman cited a non-partisan Congressional Budget Office report that concluded 80% of people who filed for unemployment when the $600 weekly payment was in effect collected more on unemployment than they did in their jobs, which he said is inappropriate. He says the $300 weekly payment would provide a “safety net” for those who can’t return to work instead of encouraging people to not return to their jobs.
The GOP coronavirus relief proposal doesn’t include the second round of direct payments of up to $1,200 per taxpayer that was in a package the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives approved in May, and it also wouldn’t provide extra money that Democrats want to help state and local governments whose tax revenues are down because of the virus.
Portman said he likes that the bill has “responsible COVID-targeted liability protection for schools, employers and nonprofits, and would get money “out the door” to help schools. It also would provide $15 billion to help day care centers reopen and subsidize child care services for low-income families.
“Hopefully we can least get a majority and and then that will break the logjam and get people back to the negotiating table,” Portman said.
Brown disputed Portman’s contention that the bill would trigger negotiations, arguing Democrats have tied to negotiate with McConnell since the House passed its bill in May.
“I’ve watched McConnell work, I’ve watched his Senate leadership and if they pass something tiny like this, a little unemployment, nothing for schools to speak of, nothing for rental assistance, nothing for state and local government, he will say ‘Well, we did our job, we’re done.,” said Brown.
Brown also also disputed the contention that an extra $600 in weekly federal unemployment payments is too much money.
“Washington Republicans have the audacity to suggest that helping people through this national crisis is going to stop people from working and result in a resolve a bunch of lazy workers,” said Brown. When I hear my millionaire colleagues and billionaires in the president’s cabinet saying that giving $600 a week is just too much money, it just sickens me.”
Brown cited the case of Ashtabula’s Matthew Urch, who told reporters that the $600 extra in weekly unemployment benefits “was like the world was lifted off my shoulders” after he was laid off from his job as a poker dealer at Jack Cleveland Casino. Urch said he wasn’t making as much money from unemployment as he did from his job, but the extra $600 gave him enough money to pay his bills on time and not worry about putting food on the table.
Because the $600 payments have lapsed, he said he’ll have just $200 in his bank account when his benefits are added today, and will have to choose between making an overdue car payment or using the money for other living expenses. He said it’s “hard to say” whether he’d be able to get by on unemployment with a $300 federal weekly subsidy instead of $600, as he lives paycheck to paycheck, but said it would make life “a lot more difficult.”
“I hope every single day that I get a call from that casino to go back to the poker room because I want to get back to work so, so badly, but unfortunately, that day hasn’t come yet,” said Urch. “That $600 a week kept me from struggling in an already extremely hard time. And I am one of the lucky ones: I still have a roof over my head, I still have food to eat. I am getting behind again, but my utilities are still on, my car payment is late, but it hasn’t been repossessed yet. Millions of people haven’t been that lucky.”
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