CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images
Millions of people who have suddenly lost their jobs as a result of the economic damage wrought by the coronavirus will be getting additional unemployment benefits from the federal government, according to the relief bill that President Donald Trump signed on Friday.
Trump signed the bill hours after the House of Representatives passed the massive measure in a voice vote. Senate lawmakers unanimously approved late Wednesday.
The $2 trillion stimulus package will pay workers $600 a week on top of whatever sum they receive in their state-level unemployment claim for a period of up to four months, according to provisions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The CARES Act also will send direct cash payments to many Americans and provide relief for small businesses.
A record 3.28 million people filed jobless claims between March 15 and March 21, dwarfing the last record for an increase in initial claims. The previous record was 695,000 in 1982.
The COVID-19 outbreak has dealt a crippling blow to the restaurant, hotel and travel industries — to name just a few — as consumers stay home and avoid public places in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
Workers in many states are eligible for up to 26 weeks of unemployment insurance, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The weekly unemployment amounts vary from state to state. For example, New York — one state hit hard by the outbreak — pays a maximum of $504 a week, and its payment program runs for 26 weeks.
State unemployment benefits can cover anywhere between 55% and 20% of average weekly wages, depending on the state, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The CARES Act will cover unemployment payments for both jobless self-employed workers and independent contractors.
Many states typically have what’s called a “waiting week” between the time a person files a jobless claim and when they start receiving unemployment benefits.
The CARE Act says the federal government will pay the cost of that first “waiting week” so people can have quick access to cash, according to an analysis from Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, a Republican.
Ahead of the Senate’s passage Wednesday night, some Republican senators questioned whether the federal unemployment payouts, combined with state unemployment claims, would actually end up paying individuals more money to collect unemployment than get back to work.
Sen. Benjamin Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, was one of the senators behind a proposed amendment that would cap unemployment payments at 100% of what the worker made before losing their job. There were plenty of good parts of the bill, but the “poorly drafted” rules on unemployment payouts needed to be fixed, he said.
Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, said he didn’t believe the expanded benefits would discourage people from working. “Let’s give them that helping hand and not apologize about it for a minute,” he said, noting people would put that money back in the economy by spending it.
Sasse backed the amendment, along with Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Rick Scott of Florida, but they failed to get it included in the bill.
The bill will also provide $1,200 direct payments to adults making up to $75,000 a year, offer $350 billion in loans to small businesses and set up a $500 billion fund to lend to industries, cities and states.
Coronavirus had infected at least 92,932 people in the U.S. as of Friday and killed at least 1,380 people, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering. Worldwide, there were 566,269 confirmed cases of the virus and 26,455 reported deaths; 127,768 people have recovered.