The $600 bonus unemployment payments put in place in March expire today, and let’s get this out of the way up front: the main reason for extending them is because there are millions of Americans who are out of work and they desperately need the money. There’s no reason to add to the anxiety of the COVID-19 pandemic itself by making them wonder if they’ll keep getting these payments.
That said, there’s another reason to extend the UI payments. I’m not the first to say this, or probably even the millionth, but if the payments are cut off it will devastate an already ravaged economy. Here is EPI’s estimate from a few weeks ago of what the payments are doing to keep the economy afloat:
We estimate that extending the $600 UI benefits through the middle of 2021 would provide an average quarterly boost to gross domestic product (GDP) of 3.7% and employment of 5.1 million workers.
Now, you can argue with EPI’s precise number. You can propose, say, a $400 UI benefit along with a repeat of the $1,200 stimulus checks. That’s all fine, and it ought to be an easy negotiation. It also ought to be a negotiation that took place a month ago, when it was obvious that we hadn’t beaten COVID-19 and continued support for the economy would be needed.
So why are Republicans hemming and hawing and putting off any action? After all, the president is a Republican. He’s already in trouble, and if the economy is in shambles in November he’ll obviously have no chance of winning no matter how many federal troops he sends into American cities to gin up riots. From a purely selfish perspective, Republicans ought to be in favor of doing anything they can to keep the economy in decent shape through the election.
So what’s going on? I can think of a few possibilities:
- They are genuinely worried about creating even deeper deficits. For obvious reasons, I find this hard to believe.
- They’ve given up on Trump. This is possible, but they still have their own elections to think about.
- They’re holding out for goodies aimed at their base and are using the desperation of ordinary people as leverage to get Democrats to agree. Unfortunately, I have no problem believing this.
Whatever the reason, the whole thing is a disgrace. Ordinary people need this boost. The economy needs this boost. It will almost certainly do no damage in a period of near-zero interest rates. Why are Republicans acting so contemptibly?