July 01,2020

Press Contact:

Ashley Schapitl (202)224-4515

Wyden Statement on Senate Floor on Extending Supercharged Unemployment Assistance

As Prepared for Delivery

Madam President, I’m here on the floor this morning with Leader Schumer to call on the Senate to extend supercharged unemployment benefits for as long as our economy is suffering under the COVID-19 pandemic. Let me explain why this ought to be a no-brainer.

Tens of millions of Americans are out of work due to COVID-19. The pandemic is getting worse. Dr. Fauci yesterday talked about soon having 100,000 new confirmed cases per day nationwide. I don’t even want to imagine what the unemployment situation will look like with 100,000 new coronavirus cases every day. You cannot have a healthy economy in a country suffering from mass death.

I know the president got up in the Rose Garden and celebrated the last jobs report like it was the greatest news since the end of World War II. But you’ve got to be living in a country club fantasy land to believe this economic crisis is anywhere near its end.

Tens of millions of Americans are out of work. In states with COVID hot spots, there are reports that people who went back to work in the spring are getting laid off for a second time. The numbers show that it’s disproportionately Black and Hispanic people suffering in this crisis, and layoffs are hitting people hard in lower-wage industries. It’s a recipe for injustice, and for long-term economic hardship. The country is not on a straight line to recovery.

Democrats demanded supercharged unemployment benefits because workers are not to blame for this crisis. Doctors don’t yet have a cure for COVID-19, but the Congress does have a way to address the financial strain of joblessness.

That’s why Democrats demanded full wage replacement during negotiations on unemployment benefits in the CARES Act. Secretary Scalia told us that state UI systems were too outdated to make it work anytime soon. These are federal benefits, but under employment law, the states administer the program and get the benefits out. So that’s when Democrats proposed a simple solution: $600 extra per week across the board, adding up to full wage replacement for the typical worker. That was the only hope of getting supercharged benefits out quickly.

In a number of states it hasn’t been easy. In some it’s because UI systems are run on Bronze-Age technology. In others, it’s a case of Republican sabotage. That’s why, in my view, Congress must examine whether a federal approach for administering unemployment benefits could do a better job in the future.

But in today’s economic conditions, if you want to get full-wage benefits out on time, there is no alternative to $600 per week across the board. Furthermore, there is no good argument for cutting or eliminating benefits for as long as this pandemic is raging – and even getting worse.

On one hand, I’ve heard Secretary Scalia and other Republicans repeat the old line that lazy workers, dependent on the government, will drag the economy down by collecting unemployment instead of going back to their jobs. On the other hand, Republicans said the economy is roaring back to full employment, so there’s no need for extending benefits any longer. Folks, you can’t have it both ways.

And regardless of how those arguments conflict, neither one holds any water to begin with. First of all, it is an insult to American workers to say they’d rather sit at home than work hard and earn their pay. How can anybody believe in the greatness of this country and think so little of its workers?

Second, let’s quit pretending to know whether this crisis is anywhere near over. The number of people filing new unemployment claims every week – even now – is two and three times higher than the worst single week of the Great Recession.

Senators have a right to stake out whatever ground they want on this issue. But the American people overwhelmingly support extending supercharged unemployment benefits. They don’t buy Secretary Scalia’s line about lazy workers or dependence on the government. I can tell you based on the conversations I’ve had with Oregonians, they don’t want a handout. They understand that this country is facing a severe, historic crisis of joblessness, and they want the Congress to act.

So colleagues, you cannot have a healthy economy in a country suffering from mass death. Particularly in the middle of a pandemic, it would be an act of unthinkable cruelty and self-sabotage to slash these benefits and send all those jobless families into destitution.

That’s why Senator Schumer and I are proposing to extend these supercharged unemployment benefits in a manner that’s tethered to economic conditions on the ground. That kind of system will support families while the joblessness crisis is raging, and it will lift as conditions improve. It’s commonsense certainty and predictability for American workers.

Bottom line, we have a moral obligation to help those who are suffering during this crisis of joblessness – and we need to stand with those Americans for as long as this crisis goes on. 

I urge all my colleagues to support the Schumer-Wyden proposal.