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Republican Senators Warn of Rising Unemployment Rate as Benefits Outpace Wages for Many

Sen. Ben Sasse on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 27, 2018 (Andrew Harnik/Reuters)

Republican senators are sounding the alarm that increased jobless benefits could “push unemployment higher” as many find themselves receiving more money than they were previously making while employed.

The $2 trillion emergency spending package passed last month by Congress infuses $250 billion more into unemployment insurance programs in response to the coronavirus emergency. The stimulus bill also extends eligibility for unemployment benefits from the standard 26 weeks to 39 weeks. Also, those who have lost their jobs during the health emergency can receive $600 a week for up to four months on top of their regular jobless benefits, an addition that is set to end July 31.

Republican senators Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Rick Scott of Florida, and Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott of South Carolina were pushing to add a provision to the massive spending package, the CARES Act, that would prevent workers from receiving more in unemployment benefits than they earned at their jobs — but their amendment was shot down in the Senate.

“Small businesses will struggle as long as unemployment pays more than work,” Sasse told Fox News. “The real world doesn’t look anything like their progressive talking points, but that’s not going to stop Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi from doubling down on sloppy policy.”

“We should take care of workers who lose their jobs, and a workable compromise could be unemployment up to 100 percent of pay during this emergency,” the Nebraska senator continued. “I’m going to keep fighting for pro-worker, pro-recovery benefits that don’t push unemployment higher.”

Graham agreed, saying the CARES Act “created a system that can provide many hourly employees a 50 percent or more increase in wages if they choose unemployment instead of staying on payrolls” He warned against establishing a “great incentive for people to leave the workforce.”

“I want to make people whole who lost their job through no fault of their own,” said Graham. “But I don’t want to pay people more not to work than to actually go to work.”

“We cannot encourage people to make more money in unemployment than they do with employment,” Tim Scott said when the bill was being debated last month.

Increasing unemployment benefits was a top priority for Democrats along with expanding food stamps.

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