Even as COVID-19 unemployment benefits expired last week, likely leaving millions in the lurch, top Democrats and Trump administration representatives failed to reach a deal on their extension Monday.
“They are sticking to their position,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told reporters today, an apparent reference to Republican demands that the $600-per-week in enhanced benefits be scaled back.
“We’re sticking to ours,’ said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was with Schumer.
Democrats want an extension of those unemployment benefits through the end of January, and the House passed a $3 trillion bill in May that includes it.
Schumer and Pelosi on Monday met for more than two hours with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
Although Schumer said that the meeting was “productive” and “we are moving down the track,” he said “we still have our differences. We are trying to have a clearer understanding of what the needs are.”
But he indicated that a good deal of their discussions had to do with opening schools.
“There are a lot of issues still outstanding, but I think there is a desire to get something done as soon as we can,” Schumer said.
A number of entertainment industry labor groups are pushing for the unemployment extension, which provides $600 per week in additional relief to workers than traditional state benefits. More importantly to those in the industry, under the terms of the COVID-19 relief bill passed in March, the unemployment benefits were extended to a wider variety of workers including independent contractors, freelancers and gig workers. The problem is that the enhanced benefits expired July 31.
Meanwhile, music industry organizations have been lobbying for provisions that would close a loophole that has left out artists whose income is a mix of regular employment and independent contracting.
Republicans last week proposed a package, estimated at a price tag of $1 trillion, that would extend the enhanced benefits but adding just $200 per week in unemployment income. It eventually would be replaced by a formula to pay workers 70% of lost income. Trump and other Republicans have argued that the $600 per week was too high and was keeping people from returning to their jobs because they were making more being out of work.
Mnuchin said that last week, they offered to extend the existing benefit for seven days as negotiations for a broader relief package continued. But Democrats rejected the seven-day extension.
On ABC News’ This Week on Sunday, Mnuchin said that they proposed the one-week extension but Democrats are “insistent on having this as part of a larger deal.” A larger deal would encompass relief to state and local governments, expansion of testing, and money for hospitals and schools, among other things.
On CNN Monday, Pelosi said that “a building is on fire and they are deciding how much water they want to have in the bucket…Millions of people could have fallen into poverty without this $600.” She did, however, indicate that reducing the figure as the unemployment rate goes down is “something to talk about.”
“They’re so fussy about any anecdotal information they may have about somebody not going to work because they make $600 on this, but so cavalier about big money going to companies that really shouldn’t be having it, so the $600 is very important in the lives of the American people,” she said.
Pelosi said that they will meet again Tuesday, but that there will be “no short term bill. Forget that.”