Last week, the $600 weekly unemployment income boost expired. On May 15, the House passed the HEROES Act to extend unemployment aid through the end of the year. Yet as of today, President Donald Trump is threatening some kind of unilateral action as Senate Republicans remain stuck in their own quagmire.
Amidst this chaos, Reps. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas), Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas), and Susie Lee joined with Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colorado) for a press call to continue to press the need for Congress to end the stalemate and get Americans the aid they desperately need.
So what did the Nevada Legislature do… And what has (the other house of) Congress still not done?
Since we last checked in on the troubles near and far facing the unemployment insurance (UI) system, we’ve seen some changes. At the Nevada Legislature, SB 3 passed overwhelmingly (with only outgoing Assembly Member Chris Edwards [R-Las Vegas] voting against), and it makes changes to Nevada Department of Employment, Training, and Rehabilitation (DETR) protocol in order to expedite approval for most applicants and qualify for an additional seven weeks of UI benefits.
But at the federal level, progress has been far more elusive. Nearly three months after U.S. House Democrats brought forward and passed the HEROES Act in their chamber, Senate Republican leaders have essentially walked away, leaving House and Senate Democratic leaders to attempt to negotiate directly with the White House. With President Donald Trump keeping himself busy by suing Nevada over our state’s plan to mail ballots to all active registered voters this fall while continuing to deny the science of COVID-19, and with Republicans already getting what they wanted the most with the CARES Act’s corporate aid program, it remains unclear whether further federal aid will ever materialize.
With the White House threatening to take unilateral action (again) if Trump doesn’t get what he wants, the 32 million+ Americans (including 352,000+ Nevadans) who’ve been receiving traditional UI or PUA (or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for “1099”/“gig economy” workers) are left at risk of taking the brunt of whatever Trump attempts to do unilaterally and will almost certainly be sued over should he go there.
“If we don’t act now, our recovery is going to be longer and more painful. If we don’t act now, we won’t be taking the action we need to wipe this virus out, which is what we need to keep our economy open.”
– Rep. Susie Lee
During a press call this morning, Rep. Susie Lee vented her frustration over the HEROES Act stalemate dragging on for this long. “In the House, we passed the HEROES Act. It passed the House almost three months ago. In Nevada, that would mean $8.7 billion [in relief funds],” Lee noted.
Lee then spoke about her own proposal, which aligns with recommendations from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), to set future relief aid to an “automatic stabilizer” where the Medicaid FMAP (or formula for federal matching dollars) for states increases for as long as they continue to suffer high unemployment. Had this automatic FMAP-based aid system been in place since March, Americans would likely be at less risk of seeing relief programs expire while the crisis was still underway.
But since such an “automatic stabilizer” was not included in the Families First Act or the CARES Act that passed in March, we’re back at square one now. As Lee put it, “We know we have the solutions to rein in this pandemic. We passed this solution 11 weks ago. Unfortunately, [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell [R-Kentucky] has sat on his hands and not taken action.”
After chiding Trump and McConnell for “trying to gaslight Americans into believing they’re doing something,” Lee added, “If we don’t act now, our recovery is going to be longer and more painful. If we don’t act now, we won’t be taking the action we need to wipe this virus out, which is what we need to keep our economy open.”
“It’s time for us to help the workers and extend their benefits to January. Can workers accept a compromise? Will the landlord accept a compromise when the rent is due? Will the grocery store accept a compromise at checkout?”
– Rep. Steven Horsford
Since the House passed the HEROES Act in May, Republicans have been claiming that the extra $600 weekly unemployment income was encouraging people to collect unemployment instead of returning to work. However, a Yale University study released late last month concluded that the expanded unemployment income did not encourage workers to quit the workforce. In addition, Harvard economist Raj Chetty and Moody’s Analytics economist Mark Zandi noted during a CBPP press call last month that the $600 weekly unemployment income was likely the most effective means of stimulus from the entire CARES Act.
When asked whether he and other Democrats are willing to accept a lower amount of UI and PUA income to reach a deal with Republicans, Rep. Steven Horsford replied, “It’s time for us to help the workers and extend their benefits to January. Can workers accept a compromise? Will the landlord accept a compromise when the rent is due? Will the grocery store accept a compromise at checkout?”
While Lee seemed to leave the door open to a possible compromise that could result in less UI and PUA income (depending on what else might be in this theoretical agreement), Reps. Horsford and Dina Titus signaled no interest in cutting unemployment assistance. As Horsford declared, “We need to extend this benefit and add to it my proposal of $3,600 to help people when they can go back to work. […] We can not leave workers hanging. They are on the front line of this crisis.”
“No matter what [Trump] tells you, we are still in a state of crisis. We are in an economic crisis, and we are in a health care crisis. We can not solve one without solving the other.”
– Rep. Dina Titus
In addition to the $600 weekly unemployment income boost, Congressional Democratic leaders have also sought over $900 billion in flexible aid to state and local governments, $13 per hour in supplemental hazard pay for essential workers in multiple fields, $3.6 billion for election protection (and additional funding for the U.S. Postal Service), and additional funding and support for states to expand testing capacity and contact tracing capability.
While Republicans have mocked Democrats’ list of demands, Titus countered, “No matter what the president tells you, we are still in a state of crisis. We are in an economic crisis, and we are in a health care crisis. We can not solve one without solving the other.”
Getting back to unemployment, when asked about Nevada’s and other states’ struggle to overcome their system backlogs, Titus acknowledged that the state operated its UI system on “chicken wire and chewing gum” for far too long, but she also faulted the Trump administration for sending out “guidance” to states that resulted in further delays in states processing UI and PUA applications. According to Titus, “Our department didn’t know who would qualify and whether they’d have to take it back. It was a mess!”
She and Horsford noted that the HEROES Act includes $2 billion for states to upgrade their unemployment systems, and Titus echoed Horsford in decrying Republicans’ insistence on a deal that doesn’t take into account Americans’ needs. As Titus put it, “McConnell said we need to take a pause [after the HEROES Act passed the House]. Well, hungry children can’t take a pause. Landlords won’t take a pause. Bill collectors are not taking a pause. McConnell needs to work with the Democrats to pass a solution.”