The Senate was voting Friday on a series of amendments in a process known as a “vote-a-rama”
before moving to a final vote on the entire relief package.
Extending special pandemic programs
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program provides benefits to freelancers, gig workers, independent contractors and certain people affected by the pandemic, while the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program increases the duration of payments for those in the traditional state unemployment system.
Congress created these two temporary programs, along with a $600 weekly boost that lasted four months, in its $2 trillion relief package
nearly a year ago to help cushion laid-off workers during the pandemic-fueled economic downturn. The programs were extended and the $300 weekly enhancement was added as part of lawmakers’ $900 billion relief deal
passed in December.
Stressing that millions of struggling Americans remain out of work, President Joe Biden
called for providing a $400 boost and continuing the programs through the end of September as part of the massive relief package he unveiled just before taking office.
Asked about the Senate Dem unemployment insurance agreement, a senior administration official said the White House is “definitely good with it,” and pointed out making the first $10,200 in benefits no longer being taxable was “something the administration had been trying to figure out how to address.”
Racing toward a deadline
The differences in the Senate and House bills, however, are one more issue the two chambers have to work out before they send the final legislation to the President for his signature.
Lawmakers’ self-imposed deadline of March 14 for passing the relief package is fast approaching. That’s when out-of-work Americans will start running out of benefits in the two programs, which will then phase out over the subsequent month. The $300 enhancement also ends next weekend.
An estimated 11.4 million workers will lose their unemployment benefits
between mid-March and mid-April unless Congress acts, a recent study by The Century Foundation found.
Even if lawmakers finish the bill in coming days, some jobless Americans may see a lapse in benefits since it can take a few weeks for state unemployment agencies to program the new provisions into their systems.