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The congress is about to expand the federal unemployment benefit

After initial opposition from some Republicans, Congress is nearing an agreement to extend at least a portion of the US $ 600 weekly unemployment benefit approved this spring to help American workers affected by the coronavirus crisis.

When they return next week to start talks on another important relief law, lawmakers will have a tight deadline to renew the popular advantage that expires at the end of the month.

The recent resurgence of COVID-19 cases in many states, including California, provides political tailwind for Democrats who want to extend the money.

“The additional $ 600 a week was an absolute lifeline for these Americans,”

; Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.), Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, told reporters on Wednesday. He said it was “cruel” to leave unemployed workers pending just before the deadline before Congress reached agreement on whether the money would be used again.

And while some in the GOP are firmly against expanding money and arguing that this is preventing some workers from returning to work, some Republicans – including some White House officials – have started approving reduced or more restricted federal funding of nearly 50 million American workers who have applied for unemployment insurance since the pandemic started.

Minister of Finance Steven T. Mnuchin and economic advisor Larry Kudlow appeared to open the door to a compromise on this issue in public comments over the past two weeks.

Unemployment insurance is just one of several sticking points.

There is also controversy over whether to incentivize school reopening in the fall, how far to protect businesses, schools, and others from COVID-19 liability lawsuits, and how much government aid, if any, is provided by the state and local governments should get their budgets backed up.

They also need to agree on how to make the Pay Check Protection Loans more attractive to small businesses, whether to continue the moratorium on evictions for people living in social housing or renting homes with government-backed mortgages, and whether to spend another direct cash is intended to pay up to $ 1,200 per adult and $ 500 per child.

Given the upcoming traditional convention break in August, there isn’t much time to reach an agreement. House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) promised to get a package on President Trump’s desk before she left.

“We will have a bill and hopefully we will have it sooner rather than later because people really need it and we should have it before unemployment insurance expires,” Pelosi said Wednesday.

The direct negotiations between Democrats and Republicans have not yet started seriously, but both sides have begun publicly sending trial balloons through press conferences, statements, and television appearances.

It will be Congress’s first major response to the pandemic since the spring, when it passed several laws that provided nearly $ 3 trillion in emergency economic aid.

Negotiations on what to do next failed in May. The Republicans said they wanted to wait until July to see how the money that had already been approved – the largest single economic aid package in US history – affected the economy before approving more.

The Democrats continued, and the house passed a $ 3 trillion package with no republican contribution or the broad support that they hope will be the starting point for the ongoing negotiations. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Called it a wish list and a non-starter in the Senate.

McConnell was convinced that the next package would be in his office. Earlier coronavirus bills were largely drawn up between Democrats and Mnuchin, much to the frustration of Senate Republicans.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) told the Senate Democrats on Wednesday that McConnell had not asked for contributions and that the Republicans apparently are trying to get the House Democrats out of the way. But he said Senate Democrats would only negotiate the next package with House Democrats in the room, a source said on the call.

The House of Representatives and Senate Democrats plan to extend the federal unemployment benefit of $ 600 until the end of the year.

The Trump administration and Congress Republicans have described the flat-rate grant as a deterrent to people returning to work, as some low-paid workers make more money if they are unemployed than they would have at work.

Nonetheless, in a departure from his previous position to end the grant this week, McConnell admitted that unemployment insurance would be covered in the next bill, though he didn’t provide any details.

“I think you could expect this to worsen over the next three weeks, starting next week,” McConnell told reporters in Kentucky on Monday.

Economists argue that the purpose of the benefit was to encourage people to stay home and not look for work to control the spread of the coronavirus. Government officials also said that providing a lump sum based on the national average is the quickest way to get the money out, rather than making adjustments by the state or based on employee pay – something that should not be managed by the distressed state unemployment systems .

With the rate of positive cases rising in more than half of the states, Republicans have started to talk about extending benefits to a lower amount in the future or finding a way to reduce benefits to no more than a person’s normal salary limit to take away.

One way that is being considered is to lower unemployment benefits from $ 600 a week to $ 200 to $ 400 a week and make up for at least part of the difference by sending another round of $ 1,200 stimulus payments to some families.

Pelosi told reporters on Wednesday that she was open to negotiating the $ 600 and said this should be considered alongside possible direct payments to individuals as a whole.

McConnell confirmed at an event in Kentucky on Wednesday that the next aid package must include liability protection for the reopening of schools, healthcare providers, and businesses. Democrats had initially described such liability protection as a non-starter, but had secured themselves somewhat in the past few weeks. Pelosi said companies will be protected from lawsuits on Wednesday if the OSH passes the safety regulations they want for workers.

McConnell also said that the bill he is proposing will include incentives to physically bring children back to school in the fall so parents can get back to work. That could require a significant federal investment, he said.

The issue has become a key issue in the past few weeks, and Trump is threatening to tie federal aid to whether schools are fully open so that the children are physically present. Although he cannot do this alone, he could insist that Congress somehow condition aid. Some of the country’s largest school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, are already saying that they won’t be reopening for personal classes in the fall.

McConnell did not say that funding for education should depend on reopening, adding that it may be necessary to move children in and out of schools to limit class size.

“It can be done safely. You have to weigh the consequences. What are the consequences of staying at home or back in school? Although some school districts in the west are closing again, all the evidence suggests that distance learning for children is not so good, ”said McConnell. “We need to find a way to get back to work safely, and we believe the federal government must play a financial role to make this possible.”

Democrats want the package to cover safe reopening of schools with money for protective equipment for educators and students, improvement of ventilation systems, and more distance education technology. However, they reject Trump’s threat to connect federal aid to schools that reopen physical locations, saying that student and teacher security must be paramount.

“We cannot risk their health and safety, and indeed their lives [and the] Life from everyone they could bring this house to, ”said Pelosi. “Our teachers, our supervisors, our people who work in public schools have to be protected. We cannot follow this government’s stance: “If you don’t open up, we won’t give you money.” No, we give you money so that you can open up. “

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