U.S. Democrats push to extend $600 weekly coronavirus unemployment benefit

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FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) listens as Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters about police reform legislation at the U.S. Capitol in Washington U.S., June 23, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats in the U.S. Senate, impatient with the pace of Republicans’ consideration of additional aid related to the coronavirus pandemic, on Wednesday proposed long-term extensions to a temporary unemployment insurance program.

The $600-per-week payments to laid-off workers, which began at the end of March and are set to expire on July 31, would be extended until jobless rates in individual states fell below 11%.

On June 5 the U.S. unemployment rate stood at 13.3%.

Under the Democrats’ legislation, these federally backed benefits would fall by $100 for every percentage-point decrease in a state’s unemployment rate, until joblessness falls below 6%.

The proposal comes as 33 million people in the United States are either receiving unemployment benefits or awaiting approval, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said.

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While many workers have been returning to their jobs after states loosened self-quarantine steps in response to the coronavirus pandemic, a significant increase in hospitalizations in several states has since caused some governors to rein in those actions.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said he supports continuing expanded unemployment insurance benefits during the pandemic but said the size of the $600-per-week payments have discouraged some workers from returning to their jobs.

McConnell has ignored a $3 trillion coronavirus aid bill passed by the House of Representatives in May, saying he wanted to first gauge the state of the hobbled U.S. economy before acting on a bill at the end of this month.

But even Republicans wanted to take some action sooner. Late on Tuesday, the Senate unanimously approved a Democratic bill to extend an expiring $660 billion small business emergency loan program through Aug. 8.

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