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Republicans Want to Reduce Pandemic Unemployment Benefit to $200 a Week Because They Do Not Care About You

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell makes a stupid frowny face for reporters.

The Republican party does not care about your unemployed status or your survival in a global pandemic. It thinks a desperately-needed extra $600 a week is “disincentive” for you to go back to work.

Americans need to be clear on who is trying to help them economically during this devastating pandemic, and who wants to feed them into the maw of the economy. The Democratic-led House passed the HEROES Act, which would see the $600 addition to unemployment benefits—which is set to expire next week—extended into January. The Republican-controlled Senate wants to do everything possible to avoid this extension. They’re trying to hack that number down to between $200-$400 a week, though no doubt they’d eliminate it entirely if they could.

Per The Hill and The Washington Post, while it’s still unclear what number the GOP will arrive on, $200 is the likely reported amount. They’re also looking at reducing unemployment benefits for those who were “high earners” before becoming unemployed, as well as setting a new, lower-income threshold in the event of another round of stimulus checks. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell recently suggested only those who were making less than $40,000 pre-pandemic might receive a check, which would preclude huge swathes of Americans struggling during one of the most uncertain times in our history. 20 million people who received the first round of checks would be cut off.

While Republicans love to natter on about the deficit, the real elephant in the room is that many feel the $600 a week payout, which has been a lifeline to countless Americans and their families, is so high that it will “disincentivize” those receiving it from going back to work. As The Hill reports:

A number of Republicans have voiced opposition to the $600 per week increase given concerns about the deficit and that it would leave some workers gaining more money through benefits than they would through work. Some GOP lawmakers said the benefits would as a result serve as a disincentive to people returning to work. Democrats assert that more money boosts the amount of spending in the economy.

The Republicans’ outlook here is equal parts breathtakingly cruel and willfully ignorant.

To begin with, if some workers are making more on pandemic benefits, that’s because the jobs they lost were paying them exploitation wages, barely allowing them to scrape by. Even before coronavirus, 78% of Americans lived paycheck to paycheck. 40% said they could not cover $400 in emergency expenses—a situation laid bare by the fact that a national emergency beyond their control has left countless Americans desperate.

Now, millions do not know how they will keep their houses, apartments, or keep food on the table, and many do not know when or if jobs will be available to them again. The COVID-19 crisis was made exponentially worse by the blundering of Trump’s administration, worsening the outcome for Americans and making it all the more difficult to find work. (The Trump administration even opposes billions of dollars Senate Republicans are in favor of spending on coronavirus testing and tracing, as the President continues to believe magical thinking can will the virus away.) Republicans have exacerbated the coronavirus response at almost every turn, and yet still they expect Americans to suffer and go without.

Which leads us to the second head-scratching implication of the GOP’s “disincentive” stance: where are these bountiful jobs that workers are avoiding? Do Republicans really have so little faith in the American people that they think people would not work safely if they could? Are they unaware that healthcare is largely tied to employment? Beyond the millions of jobs lost, many that remain are on our new “front lines” like grocery stores, restaurants, and other service-industry jobs where workers are at great risk of exposure to the coronavirus. These jobs, when they are even available, are out of reach for anyone with a compromised immune system or anyone who lives or cares for someone at risk of serious complications.

And beyond those scenarios, Republicans want to essentially force Americans to choose between taking dangerous jobs or finding themselves (and their families) evicted or starving. It’s a rock and a hard place, with the GOP grinding the two together. Again, this supposes that jobs are available at all; in recent weeks, employees who did return to reopened businesses have found their places of work shuttered as coronavirus cases surge.

Let’s also be crystal clear about the people who are proposing taking away or significantly reducing your lifeline. Senators and Representatives make $174,000 a year. That’s more than double the median household income in D.C., and means that after taxes, they’re taking home $2,230 a week, or $9,664 a month. These are often folks who are already independently wealthy—and lest we forget, they have excellent, guaranteed government-provided healthcare. Mitch McConnell ($193,400 salary), who thinks stimulus checks shouldn’t go to anyone making more than $40,000, has a net worth of $35 million.

Pardon me for thinking that these extremely well-off politicians have no right in drafting policy during an international plague that reduces benefits—and could mean life or death for the citizens they are supposed to be representing. The Democratic party is far from perfect, but at least they’re trying here. And you should be angry.

It’s possible that given the dire state of events and the fact that it’s an election year, the Republicans may allow themselves to be strongarmed into approving further extensions and another stimulus check. But make no mistake. They do not care about you, they think you are choosing not to work to relax into your cushy monthly benefits that do not equal a week’s worth of their pay, and they want you to risk death because of the deficit and their own economic portfolios. Remember this in November, if we make it that far as a nation.

(via The Hill, image: Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.