House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) defended a proposed $600 weekly increase in unemployment payments to laid-off workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday, rejecting assertions by some Republican senators that people would rather collect government assistance than keep their jobs.
“Please don’t resent our lowest-paid workers in America for getting $600 so that they can meet the needs of their families. Spend the money,” Pelosi said on PBS NewsHour. “It’s immediate. Spend the money, inject demand into the economy, grow the economy and, at the same time, give people a little more confidence and less stress as they deal with the important health issue, health challenge that this is.”
Pelosi’s comments come as the Senate negotiated a massive $2 trillion stimulus bill, which is meant to ameliorate the pandemic’s financial effects. More than 66,000 Americans have been infected by the virus, and at least 900 had died by Wednesday evening.
The proposal is the largest of its kind in U.S. history and includes provisions to send cash payments to many households and about $500 billion to affected businesses, with about $100 billion set aside for the nation’s hospitals.
But four Republican senators, Tim Scott (S.C.), Rick Scott (Fla.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Ben Sasse (Neb.), said they were concerned about the expansion of unemployment benefits included in the stimulus bill, which would extend an extra $600 a week in jobless benefits on top of funds usually provided by states to the unemployed.
“If this is not a drafting error, then this is the worst idea I have seen in a long time,” Graham told The New York Times on Wednesday. “We need to create a sustainable system.”
The lawmakers said they worried the payments could incentivize workers to collect the checks while out of work — which would last for four months — rather than take new jobs, suggesting that some employees would make more under the system than if they were actually employed. Pelosi rejected that.
“They also say the reason people want unemployment insurance is so they don’t have to go to work,” Pelosi told PBS. “Well, that’s not true. You don’t get unemployment insurance unless you are fired or unless you are furloughed. You can’t just quit and say, ‘I’m going on unemployment.’”
Pelosi said Democrats were “ready” to pass the stimulus package after fierce negotiations with the White House, saying it could go into effect “as soon as the Senate passes it.”
“We wanted more money,” Pelosi told PBS. “But this is not going to be the last bill.”
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