The bitterly contested extension of federal emergency unemployment benefits was playing out among Democrats and Republicans in Congress as we were closing this issue.
We hope it’s been resolved in a positive way by the time you read this column.
American workers who lost their jobs or were furloughed when the coronavirus swept across the nation were unmoored—some on the brink of financial ruin—through no fault of their own. The $600 per week in federal benefits enacted at the start of the pandemic looks like a healthy sum, but in fact amounts to just over $31,000 per year.
The money, even when combined with lower-level state benefits, was designed to help keep affected Americans afloat through the virus-induced crisis. It was not intended to, and does not, supplant a regular paycheck and a steady job.
Certainly, unemployment benefits—whether state, federal or combined—are not enough for an average working family to pay the mortgage or rent, feed a family, or keep up with the myriad necessary expenses that most of us incur on a regular basis.
While we’re not calling for retaining the $600 level indefinitely, we definitely support keeping it in place until a reasonable, workable plan is agreed upon and passed by our eternally warring leaders.
Some Republicans have complained that unemployed people should not receive more money in benefits than they would if they were working. We agree, in concept.
Many of those same legislators want to cap benefits at 70 percent of a person’s pre-layoff earnings, which is also worthy of exploring.
But until there’s a formula to determine how much a recipient earned before getting laid off —and a reliable plan to carry it out—it would be disastrous to pull the rug out from under millions of Americans.
Until the coronavirus pandemic ends, and at this moment there’s no real end in sight, we should not be playing with the lives of innocent Americans who are struggling even with the enhanced unemployment payments.
When the day comes that the virus in finally behind us, the unemployment rate is still likely to remain high, as individuals and companies step gingerly back to normal.
Even here in New York, with the numbers of new cases remaining steady at about 1 percent per day and the entire state cleared to reopen, the return to work and other activity has been slow and cautious.
Back-to-school plans are still up in the air, many restaurants and retail stores are expected to go out of business and bankruptcies already seem to be on the upswing. Many jobs that people held before the crisis will be gone.
All of that is reason why American workers and families need ongoing support in the here and now, and continued support as we all emerge to what we hope and pray will be a new and better world.