July 27,2020

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Ashley Schapitl (202) 224-4515

Wyden Statement on Senate Floor on Republican Pandemic Unemployment Benefits Proposal

Mr. President, Senate Republicans and the White House have finally come forward with a Coronavirus proposal. I want to make sure I’m responding to it without mincing words.

This is not just a misguided proposal. This is a punch in the gut and a slap in the face for the 30 million Americans relying on supercharged unemployment benefits. It adds insult to infection.

I want everybody following this debate to understand some very simple facts about what Republicans are offering unemployed Americans. 

Supercharged unemployment benefits are already expiring. The last payments went out Saturday. Senate Republicans and Donald Trump sat on their hands for months instead of working with Democrats, so it looks now like a lapse in benefits is inevitable.

Now Republicans have come forward with a plan that is simply unworkable. State workforce agencies have told the Finance Committee that any changes – even simple ones – could take months to implement.

Republicans are talking about cutting supercharged benefits by two thirds. They’re calling for states to make huge, complicated changes to the UI program that could hold up benefits until 2021. Some states might not be able to manage them at all.  

This is totally, completely irresponsible. It is cruel. It is legislative malpractice. 

Millions and millions of families are just barely getting by. On the most basic level, I do not understand how anybody could possibly look at the state of our economy and decide what’s needed is even more economic pain for 30 million Americans. It’s especially insulting to America’s unemployed workers that Republicans want to cut their economic lifeline in the same bill that would give a taxpayer subsidy to power lunches for lobbyists. 

And my colleagues have been warned that state unemployment systems are already struggling to keep up. Some people who were laid off months ago are still waiting to receive their benefits. There are news reports about people sleeping in their cars overnight just to have a shot at being at the head of the line at the workforce agency. 

And now Senate Republicans are coming forward with a proposal that just throws even more sand in the gears. My colleagues have been warned that this kind of proposal would be a disaster to implement. I know because I was in the room when they heard it.

My colleagues on the other side have essentially argued that the biggest problem facing the country is lazy workers sitting at home collecting unemployment checks instead of going back to their jobs.

There’s no evidence – not one shred – that this is actually happening in large numbers around the country.

Come to me with one single story about somebody turning down work and I’ll tell you about a dozen out-of-work Oregonians I’ve spoken to – folks who cannot wait to get back to work. People who believe in the dignity of work.

It is an insult to American workers to suggest they’re a bunch of lazy freeloaders looking for a handout, but that’s what I’ve heard time and time again from the other side over the last few months.

This Republican plan is also a disaster in the making for our economy. Supercharged unemployment benefits may be the single most impactful program the Congress passed in response to the pandemic. What would it mean to cut it? The Republican plan would cut unemployment benefits by more than $10 billion per week. That’s going to open up a terrible economic wound – it’ll be a huge setback right when the recovery seems to be stalling, even going in reverse.

According to new data from the Economic Policy Institute, cutting benefits down to $200 per week will lead to a loss of 3.4 million jobs.

And Republicans want people to believe that it’s unemployed workers holding back the economy.

Bottom line, it’s long past time for my Republican colleagues to get serious about working with Democrats on a proposal that has a pathway to becoming law. This Republican plan does not. It’s a plan to throw gas on a fire and then cut the firehoses.

The House passed legislation more than two months ago extending supercharged unemployment benefits. Leader Schumer and I introduced our plan, the American Workforce Rescue Act, before Leader McConnell sent everybody home on a two-week recess.

Benefits have lapsed. Tens of millions of Americans are on an economic tightrope right now. There is no time to waste. Senate Republicans need to work with us now. I yield the floor.