Republicans unveil coronavirus plan, slash emergency unemployment benefit

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows attend a meeting to discuss legislation for additional coronavirus aid in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S.

Senate Republicans on Monday proposed a $1 trillion coronavirus aid package hammered out with the White House, paving the way for talks with Democrats on how to help Americans as expanded unemployment benefits for millions of workers expire this week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the proposal a “tailored and targeted” plan focused on getting children back to school and employees back to work and protecting corporations from lawsuits, while slashing the expiring supplemental unemployment benefits of $600 a week by two-thirds.

The plan sparked immediate opposition from both Democrats and Republicans. Democrats decried it as too limited compared to their $3 trillion proposal that passed the House of Representatives in May, while some Republicans called it too expensive.

McConnell said the package would include direct $1,200 payments to Americans, as well as incentives for the manufacture of personal protective equipment in the United States, rather than China.

It also includes $190 billion for loans to help small businesses, and $100 billion for loans to businesses that operate seasonally or in low-income areas.

Republicans want to reduce the expanded unemployment benefit from the current $600 per week, which is in addition to state unemployment payments and expires on Friday, to $200 in addition to state unemployment.

After two months, states would implement a new formula that replaces about 70% of lost wages.

The supplemental unemployment has been a financial lifeline for laid-off workers and a key support for consumer spending. The extra funds – exceeding the former wages of some workers – have been a sticking point for many Republicans, who say they encourage Americans to stay home rather than go back to work.

Democrats, in turn, have criticized the Republican delay in writing more legislation as confirmed U.S. coronavirus cases passed the 4 million mark. The pandemic has killed nearly 150,000 people in the United States.

Negotiations started immediately after the Republican package was introduced. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer met for nearly two hours with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

Meadows said afterwards that it was a “good meeting” and that he and Mnuchin would return to Capitol Hill on Tuesday. But Pelosi and Schumer, speaking to reporters, expressed frustration that items like rental and food assistance had been left out.

“We hope that we would be able to reach an agreement. We clearly do not have shared values. Having said that, we just want to see if we can find some common ground to go forward. But we’re not at that place yet,” Pelosi said.

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