Mitch McConnell looks like his face is falling apart during a press conference.

Mitch McConnell Is “Concerned” People Won’t Go Back to Work If They Get Bare-Bones Unemployment and a $1400 Check

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Mitch McConnell, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, appeared on Fox News this week to express concern about providing stimulus money to Americans struggling to survive during a pandemic.

Host Martha MacCallum brought up “the checks that are going out”—presumably meaning both the $1400 checks and the additional unemployment benefits included in the COVID-19 stimulus package currently being debated in the Senate—and asked the Senate minority leader: “Do you believe that these checks prevent some people from wanting to work?”

McConnell’s completely predictable response was that he thinks “there is a concern about making it more advantageous to stay home rather than going back to work.”

Right now, the Senate is debating whether $300 per week of extra unemployment insurance (down from $400 passed in the House) and one single payment of $1400 (down from a January promise of $2000) is so much money that it would keep people from trying to work. It probably would not surprise you to hear that more than half of sitting U.S. Congressmembers are millionaires.

McConnell said that if “we,” meaning the Republicans in Congress, could do things over again, they would offer an alternative to the Democrats’ $1.9 trillion stimulus bill. Their alternative, he said, would “fit the situation,” and would be “highly targeted” at things like vaccine distribution and getting kids back into school. Making sure adults and families have enough money to pay rent and eat and survive in general was not on his list.

This is strange because Republicans don’t need to daydream about what they would have done differently this time to counter the Democrats, since they already had nearly a year when they had the power of a Senate majority to do whatever they wanted. And what they decided on was $1800 total and unemployment benefits of $600 a week, which then dropped down to $300 a week. That’s their COVID-19 legacy.

McConnell’s claim that people wouldn’t be inspired to work if they had access to extremely bare-bones unemployment insurance and desperately needed immediate funds is not just insulting, it’s totally unfounded.

In early 2019, the city of Stockton, California began an experiment regarding universal basic income. Some residents were given $500 per month, with no strings attached—no employment requirements, no repayment necessary, nothing.

This week, the results of that year-long study were published and it turns out the people who were given free money did not, as a whole, work less. In fact, recipients of the payments were twice as likely to find full-time employment versus those who were not part of the study.

The guaranteed income didn’t make people lazy. According to the study’s authors, it allowed them to set goals and take risks, to pay off debts and cover basic necessities. It also made people happier and healthier, reducing signs of depression and anxiety. They say money may not buy happiness but this study is certainly calling that idea into question.

What sits at the core of Mitch McConnell’s terrible argument is the types of jobs he’s worried people will avoid—namely, jobs that pay less than the supplemental unemployment insurance. Jobs that pay so little that a single $1400 check is life-changing. McConnell is both fighting against offering aid during a pandemic because he’s worried it will keep people from working and fighting to keep the wages for people who are working as low as possible.

Today, he and every other Republican in the Senate (plus eight Democrats) voted against an amendment that would increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour as part of the COVID-19 relief bill. A person who works 40 hours per week at $15 per hour still only makes about $31,000 per year, and that it is what millionaire senators think is too high.

Right now, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. So, even though Mitch McConnell’s fears that people would rather take unemployment than work are largely unfounded, at $7.25, why wouldn’t they rather do literally anything else?

(image: Tom Brenner-Pool/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.