U.S. Senate Holds Hearing on Unemployment Insurance During The Health Pandemic
On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee held a hearing titled “Unemployment Insurance During COVID-19: The CARES Act and the Role of Unemployment Insurance During the Pandemic.”
The focus of the hearing was to discuss the current $600 per week unemployment benefit that is currently being offered to the unemployed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Witnesses at the hearing included: Eugene Scalia (U.S. Secretary of Labor); Scott Sanders (Executive Director, National Association of State Workforce Agencies); Beth Townsend (Director, Iowa Workforce Development); José Javier Rodríguez (State Senator, Florida Senate); Michele Evermore (Senior Policy Analyst, National Employment Law Project) and Les Neilly (President, Neilly Canvas Goods Company).
In his opening statement, U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) highlighted his concerns regarding the $600 “plus-up” payment that is provided to those who are unemployed as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Grassley said that the additional $600 in unemployment benefits “have played an important role in helping those who lost a job or who couldn’t work as a result of the pandemic.”
He added, “But now we’re facing a much different situation than we were in mid-March. States are reopening, employment recently turned positive, and we need to shift our focus to helping people safely return to work, making sure businesses are able to come back quickly and put the country back on a path to economic growth.”
Grassley said that he has heard from many businesses in Iowa who have complained that their workers are making more in unemployment benefits than they would be making employed at those businesses.
In fact, during his opening testimony, Les Neilly stated, “The pandemic unemployment compensation alone pays our lowest-paid employee more than they make working a 40 hour work week, and all they had to do was sit at home and do nothing.”
Many other Republicans on the Committee expressed similar concerns with extending these additional unemployment benefits that are set to expire at the end of July.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) explained his stance on the issue saying that the federal government shouldn’t be paying people not to work, and that the government should be helping those that are unemployed get back to work.
At one point, Cornyn asked Secretary Scalia if there are better ways to incentivize workers to get back to work, to which Secretary Scalia replied that the single best thing for bringing workers back to work would be taking the necessary steps to ensure the economy is revived, even if that means creating a bonus for those who get back to work, an idea that is currently being discussed.
Additionally, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) expressed his concerns with the additional $600 per week payout, citing a statistic in which 68 percent of people are making more money through unemployment benefits than they would be making at their job.
Many Democrats, on the other hand, have argued that the $600 per week “plus-up” payment should be extended.
The U.S. House passed legislation last month that would extend the additional $600 payment through the end of the year instead of allowing it to expire on July 31.
At the hearing, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) touted his own plan which would gradually scale back unemployment benefits over time. Specifically, his proposal would tie the amount of unemployment bonus received to the unemployment rate.
Click Here to watch the hearing and for written testimony.