• Nathan Max

Republican Relief Falls Short

Photo credit: Melina Mara/The Washington Post. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's plan doesn't offer much.

Republicans have finally revealed the amount they are willing to supplement out-of-work Americans’ unemployment benefits to keep them financially afloat during the worst economic crisis of our lifetime: $100 a week.

Is this some kind of sick joke?

It has been more than two months since the Democratic-led House of Representatives passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act that would extend unemployed workers’ $600-a-week additional benefits through Jan. 31. Senate Republicans balked immediately, and we have been waiting and waiting for them to present their own plan.

With just three days remaining until those added funds expire, they have put their woefully inadequate offer on the table. A paltry $400 a month to run through the remainder of the calendar year.

This makes no sense, unless Republicans’ objective is to exacerbate the hardship and suffering being caused by their party’s own mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis. Thursday morning, it was announced that another 1.4 million Americans filed first-time unemployment claims, and the national jobless rate last month clocked in at 11.1 percent.

Unemployment insurance payouts vary by state, but in no place are they generous by any means.

For example, in California, the most one can pull in from unemployment insurance in normal circumstances is $450 a week, and that is for an individual who was earning well in excess of $40,000 a year before losing their job. Many independent contractors would be drawing just $167 a week in the Golden State without the federal add-on. Adding just $100 to those sums is far from an adequate amount to enable these people to pay rent and buy groceries.

Republicans argue that giving the unemployed $600 acts as a disincentive for them to return to work, a claim that has been debunked. Even if it were true, shouldn’t we be discouraging people from going to work right now? If fewer people were out in public, the less the virus would spread.

Donald Trump and the Republicans have mishandled this pandemic in epic fashion. The first rule of virus economics is you have to get the virus under control, University of Chicago economics professor Austan Goolsbee said. To do so, you need large numbers of people to stay home.

Once people stay home, you need to give them enough money to survive. The $600 bonus does that. A $100 add-on does not.

Yes, there is a segment of the population that is bringing in more money through regular unemployment or pandemic unemployment assistance than they were earning while working. But what is so wrong with that? Why can’t down-on-their-luck individuals have a little extra money?

God forbid poor people in this country could live comfortably for a few months. When the crisis ends, if the lower class has extra money to spend, they’re going to spend it. The economy would, in turn, bounce right back. After all the handouts Republicans have given to the rich, most notably the recent massive tax cut, this country can afford to throw the little guy a bone, for once.

But, as usual, Republicans feel the need to punitively punish poor people for their plight. It is mean-spirited, it is bad policy and it’s just plain inhumane.

Thankfully, Republicans don’t make policy on their own, and they will need Democrats to go along with a final bill. And the Dems better step up because this proposal, if passed, would cause all manner of suffering for their constituents.

Nancy Pelosi, it’s time to get to work.