Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) threatened that unemployment benefits for those impacted by the coronavirus crisis would only be extended "over our dead bodies."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) continued to attack laid-off workers in the middle of a health crisis, vowing that he would do everything he could to block an extension of additional unemployment benefits once they expire at the end of July.
"July the 31st is when this expires and I promise you, over our dead bodies, this will get reauthorized," Graham said in front of South Carolina's COVID-19 advisory team on Tuesday.
Graham argued that the benefits are so generous that people will opt to receive them rather than go to work, and called them an "aberration" he promised to fix.
Graham is unhappy that the CARES Act, the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package passed by Congress in late March, adds $600 per week to unemployment benefits provided by states through the end of July. He and 46 of his Republican colleagues voted for an amendment to reduce unemployment benefits in the bill, but their effort failed.
More than 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since the coronavirus crisis began.
Heidi Shierholz, senior economist and director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute, says Graham is just plain wrong about how unemployment benefits work.
"You can't just quit your job and get unemployment benefits," Shierholz said during a Wednesday phone interview. She noted that during this crisis, workers can get unemployment insurance if they are forced to stop working to care for a sick family member or take care of a child who's school has closed, but they cannot just quit their jobs for no reason and receive benefits.
Shierholz said 16% of Americans will likely be unemployed after July 31. Cutting off all additional benefits at such a time is "cruel and will lead to an enormous amount of human suffering and it's bad economics," she said, adding that unemployment insurance "is a really really good way to get money into the economy."
Graham's Democratic opponent, Jaime Harrison, criticized Graham's callous attitude toward residents of the state.
"Half a million South Carolinians are unemployed, and 60k+ Americans have died," Harrison tweeted. "[Graham] won't send help over his 'dead body'? We need a Senator who fights for us, and doesn't demonize us, in these difficult times."
This is not the first time Graham has made news for his opposition to unemployment benefits during a crisis.
Before the bill passed the Senate, Graham attacked nurses, saying they might quit their jobs in the middle of a pandemic in order to collect unemployment.
"So, you're going to have all these well-trained nurses, they're going to make $24 an hour on unemployment," Graham said on March 25. "You're literally incentivizing taking people out of the workforce at a time when we need critical infrastructure supply for the workers."
Multiple studies have shown that there is a minimal connection between unemployment benefits and people opting not to work, she Shierholz said on Wednesday.
"Even in normal times, it's not a big issue," she said. "During a freaking global pandemic when we've shut down all but essential parts of the economy, it is absurd to be worried about work disincentives."
As of Thursday morning, more than 1,045,000 people in the country have tested positive for the new coronavirus, and at least 60,000 people have died.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.