With Republicans intent on letting expanded unemployment benefits expire at the end of July, a new GOP proposal would instead give workers a bonus for returning to their jobs.
The “Return to Work” bonus would give workers up to $1,200 for going back to work. The bonus money would be available until the end of July, when the extra $600 in federal money that Congress added to weekly unemployment checks also expires.
More than 40 million Americans have filed unemployment claims since the coronavirus pandemic shuttered businesses across the country.
The extra money was designed to encourage people to stay home, since the new germ is highly transmissible, and there’s no good treatment for people who get severely ill. President Donald Trump, however, has said workers should be “warriors” and go back to their jobs despite the risk.
With such a high number of unemployed ― and many workers now actually making more or about the same on unemployment as they were before ― Republicans are looking for ways to entice people back to their jobs.
The ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee ― Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas ― recently introduced the return to work legislation, calling the proposal “an important part in preventing a prolonged recession.”
Brady said on CNBC that Texas businesses have been calling him and that they are “very frustrated that they can’t bring their workforce back.”
But Democrats — who passed legislation in the House that would extend the extra $600 in unemployment benefits until the end of the year — are panning the idea.
The Senate Democrat who negotiated the higher unemployment benefits, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), characterized the proposal as inadequate.
“If Republicans think a two-week bonus is the solution to a once-in-a-century pandemic and economic crisis, they are delusional about the scale of this crisis,” Wyden said. He added that any bonus would need to be paired with hazard pay for workers who’ve stayed at their jobs all along.
Democrats have signaled they might be willing to keep the extra benefits in place at a lower number than $600, but they also suggest that some sort of extra compensation should remain in place as long as the economy is suffering and that the benefits should automatically “trigger” off as conditions improve.
The $600 boost comes on top of whatever a claimant receives in regular state-funded benefits, and the extra money has been an important lifeline for many of the 40 million people who have become unemployed due to the coronavirus crisis. (Congress also created special unemployment benefits with broader eligibility criteria for people not normally covered, such as Uber drivers. Those benefits aren’t expiring until the end of the year.)
But the Trump administration has already been undercutting the expanded benefits by encouraging states to cut people off if they refuse to return to work, even though federal regulations say people are supposed to be able to keep disaster unemployment benefits if they refuse jobs that pose a risk to their health. Brady’s proposal also includes a provision “ensuring employers can report job refusals,” which is something employers generally can do already.
Brady’s proposal to give workers a $1,200 bonus is relatively meager when compared to the expanded unemployment benefits. And rather than actually having a significant effect on the unemployment rate, the proposal could just be a fig leaf for GOP indifference about the financial struggles of those who have lost their jobs because of coronavirus.
Republicans seem intent on not extending those added unemployment benefits, and if they actually do hold the line and refuse to agree to even a smaller number, a proposal like Brady’s could be important in helping the GOP avoid charges of heartlessness.
Instead, they can point to Brady’s proposal and say, while Democrats are incentivizing unemployment, Republicans are encouraging jobs.
Several workers have told HuffPost they quit or refused to return to their jobs because it’s not worth risking exposure to the coronavirus, even if they wind up with no income at all.