White House pushes for slashing expanded jobless benefits despite rises in unemployment, coronavirus

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Republicans have pushed to cut the expanded unemployment benefits in upcoming legislation because they claim it discourages people from working.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks with reporters about the coronavirus relief package negotiations at the White House on July 23, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP

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Top Trump administration and White House officials on Sunday said they want to replace the soon-expiring expanded unemployment benefits with a system that pays those out of work 70 percent of lost wages because they feel the current system gives people a reason not to return to the job.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told “Fox News Sunday” he believed 70 percent of wage replacement from the federal government, as opposed to the additional $600 per week, “is a very fair level.”

“I think workers and Americans understand the concept that you shouldn’t be paid more to stay home than to work,” he said. “That the fair thing is to replace wages and it just wouldn’t be fair to use taxpayer dollars to pay more people to sit home than they would get working and get a job.”

More than 30 million people are currently unemployed, with unemployment numbers on the rise as the coronavirus continues to grip much of the country. Recent spikes in COVID-19 cases have led some states to delay or roll back their economic reopenings.

On ABC’s “This Week,” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said the additional $600 per week in unemployment will not be expanded because many people earned more in unemployment than they did through their job.

White House pushes for slashing expanded jobless benefits despite rises in unemployment, coronavirus

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“So the president has been very clear, our Republican senators have been very clear, we’re not going to extend that provision,” Meadows said. “We are going to be prepared on Monday to provide unemployment insurance extension that would be 70 percent of whatever the wages you were prior to being unemployed, that it would reimburse you for up to 70 percent of those wages. Hopefully as a way to get people back on their feet.”

Meadows said he expects Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to introduce the Republican relief package on Monday. Democrats, who released their most recent relief package more than two months ago, blasted Republicans for not having a proposal ready before the expanded unemployment benefits were set to expire at the end of July.

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“Republicans have had the HEROES Act for two months,” Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Why would you wait until people are at the point of running out of their benefits. And they still haven’t come up with a plan. They are fighting between themselves.”

Earlier this month, Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen, two former chairs of the Federal Reserve, pushed lawmakers to extend the $600 expanded unemployment benefit rather than let it expire at the end of July. Speaking before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, Yellen said it “would be a catastrophe” not to do so.

Last week, Senate Republicans expressed openness to either a short-term extension of the program or a smaller cut to the benefits than what the administration presented Sunday.

Speaking with “State of the Union” top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow offered his typically rosy predictions for economic recovery and said the White House would seek to lengthen the federal eviction moratorium, which barred evictions from properties serviced by federally backed mortgages.

That moratorium came to an end on Saturday.

On the administration’s unemployment proposal, Kudlow said it will “cap the assistance at a level that is consistent with people going back to work.”

“We have had a flood of inquiries and phone calls and complaints that small stores and businesses, restaurants can’t hire people back,” Kudlow said. “They went too far.”

“Maybe last March, it was necessary for that,” he continued, adding, “I mean, the trick here is going back to work. We don’t want people out … We want them in wherever possible. The businesses are calling them back. That’s why I’m optimistic on the economy.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., criticized the Republican push to remove liability for employers and schools while curtailing the unemployment benefits

“This is so unfair,” she told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Let’s just get to the heart of it. At the point of all of this is this president — I have a new name for him: Mr. Make Matters Worse — he has made matters worse from the start. Delay, denial, it’s a hoax, it will go away magically, it’s a miracle, and all the rest.”

On the White House’s unemployment proposal, Pelosi said the $600 bonus would be simple for the state unemployment systems to process.

“And figuring out 70 percent of somebody’s wages — people don’t all make a salary, maybe they do — they make wages and they sometimes have it vary,” she said. “Why don’t we just keep it simple. Unemployment benefits, and the enhancement, which is so essential right now. And that’s really where we are starting. It’s so important to the American people.”

“This is an emergency that maybe they don’t understand,” she added. “I don’t know what they have against working families in America.”

On “State of the Union,” Bass said the expanded benefit discouraging work “might be a problem in some places, but the idea that you would cut it across the board makes no sense at all.”

“There are some states where the cost of living is a heck of a lot higher, like my state of California,” she said. “And as you pointed out, there are a lot of people not going back to work because they know it’s not safe. There’s also an awful lot of people who don’t have the jobs to go back to. So I think this is all about a state of denial that we can just get the economy back and everything is going to go away.”

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