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GOP fought against helping workers night before worst jobless report ever

More than 3.28 million people filed for unemployment insurance last week, the largest number of people to file in a single week in U.S. history.

By Emily Singer - March 26, 2020
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

The night before the federal government announced the worst weekly jobless claims report in history, Senate Republicans voted en masse to try to lower the amount of unemployment insurance laid-off workers would receive.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced on Thursday that 3.28 million people filed for unemployment insurance last week, blowing past the previous weekly record of 600,000, Politico reported.

The number is higher than dire warnings had suggested a week ago, when the bank Goldman Sachs predicted that 2.25 million would file for unemployment insurance.

In fact, the Trump administration was expecting the numbers to be bad: It had asked states not to release their individual numbers because of their potential negative impact on financial markets.

Yet Republicans were still trying to push through a less-generous unemployment insurance package for the poorest Americans — offering an amendment that would cap the amount of unemployment insurance for the lowest-earning workers.

The $2 trillion coronavirus relief package the Senate passed increased the amount of unemployment insurance provided in, addition to state benefits, by $600 a week for four months.

Each state has a different unemployment insurance rate, so eligible people would ultimately receive a weekly amount that varied depending on those differing rates.

For example, the lowest-earning workers in Mississippi receive just $30 a week in unemployment insurance. Under the Senate bill, those workers would get $630 a week — which would amount to an annual salary of $32,760.

But Republicans thought that was too generous, and said that it would incentivize people not to work.

“If the federal government accidentally incentivizes layoffs, we risk life-threatening shortages in sectors where doctors, nurses, and pharmacists are trying to care for the sick, and where growers and grocers, truckers and cooks are trying to get food to families’ tables,” Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Tim Scott of South Carolina said in a statement on Wednesday.

Graham specifically cited nurses — who are currently on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight — saying that they’d earn more if they didn’t work.

In order to receive unemployment insurance, a worker must be laid off by their employer. If you quit, you are ineligible for unemployment insurance. And if critical industries such as health care and farming need workers, they wouldn’t lay off their staff at this time.

“How do you lay yourself off though? I don’t understand this concern,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) tweeted on Wednesday.

Republicans ultimately failed in their effort to approve the amendment by a vote of 48-48.

Every GOP senator save two — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Cory Gardner of Colorado — voted for the amendment. One Democrat — Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia — also voted for it.

Four GOP senators did not vote, as they are currently in quarantine following exposure to people who tested positive for COVID-19.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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