Republicans proposed a downgrade to the $600 weekly benefit.Sarah Tew/CNET
Senate Republicans on Monday proposed a stimulus package called the HEALS Act, more than two months after the Democratic-led House of Representatives passed coronavirus relief legislation to extend federal unemployment aid. Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, provided a few specifics for those unemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The proposal would reduce the $600 extra unemployment benefit to $200 until Oct. 5 according to the bill. From that point, the assistance amount would combine with the states' unemployment offerings to equal 70% of an individual's previous wages until Dec. 31, 2020. With HEALS (which stands for Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools) officially proposed, negotiations with the Democrats will begin.
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Congress passed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act in March to help Americans and US businesses after cities began locking down due to the pandemic. Included in the package was additional unemployment aid for people who lost their jobs because of the pandemic. That extra funding officially ends July 31, though, for many, their $600 payments will stop this week.
Congressional Democrats have continued to push for an extension of unemployment benefits. The Heroes Act passed by the House of Representatives in mid-May, but not taken up by the Senate, would extend federal pandemic unemployment compensation to Jan. 31, 2021. It would also pave the way for a second stimulus payment.
Since shelter-in-place rules were put in place, tens of millions of Americans have received the extra federal unemployment aid. With states providing between $235 and $1,220 per week in assistance, the additional $300 to $600 per week is a major component of many people's financial lifeline.
When the program launched in late March, it was scheduled to last for four months, ending on July 31. We're almost there, and so far, Congress hasn't approved an extension. There was talk of a short-term solution as Congress deliberates on a new economic stimulus package. One plan considered by Senate Republicans would have reduced the $600 weekly payment to $100.
President Donald Trump's payroll tax holiday won't be included in this upcoming package, but Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said it could be included in future legislation.
Read on for all the details about unemployment benefits.
Who is eligible for enhanced unemployment?
If you've been laid off or furloughed, you're eligible to apply for unemployment benefits from the state where you live. Once the state approves your claim, you're eligible to receive whatever state benefits you're entitled to -- as well as FPUC funding up to $600 a week, provided by the federal government.
How does the CARES Act help people who have been laid off or furloughed?
Each state has its own criteria for who is eligible to receive unemployment -- and what those benefits entail. This includes how much money you're eligible to receive, which is usually based on your income, and how long you're eligible to receive it, which is usually based on how long you held your most recent job. The CARES Act provided a booster fund -- adding up to $600 extra per week -- while also extending states' unemployment benefits to a maximum of 39 weeks instead of the typical 26 weeks.
The CARES Act extra $600 unemployment benefit ends July 31.Angela Lang/CNET
How are my unemployment benefits calculated?
The state determines how much each applicant will receive, usually based on an individual's gross income. It varies from state to state but is typically between $300 and $500.
How can I find out if I'm eligible for unemployment benefits?
Eligibility criteria vary from state to state, but the general rule is that you should apply if you've lost your job or been furloughed through no fault of your own. This would include a job lost directly or indirectly to the current pandemic.
How are different states handling this?
Again, the benefit duration and amount varies. Most states provide up to 26 weeks of funding, though others, such as Georgia, limit benefits to 12 weeks. On the other hand, Delaware will provide benefits for up to 30 weeks. The weekly benefit amount depends on an applicant's gross income when they were employed and ranges between $300 and $600, with some exceptions. Mississippi pays up to $235, while Massachusetts' maximum is $1,220.
Where can I find more information about my state's policy?
Each state's labor office provides more information about its particular unemployment benefits.
How does the CARES Act help people who are self-employed?
The CARES Act also created the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which provides benefits to individuals who would not normally be eligible for unemployment benefits from the states such as gig workers, freelancers, independent contractors and small business owners whose income has been affected by the pandemic. Under the CARES Act, PUA funding will be available until Dec. 31, 2020.
When exactly does the $600 booster fund end?
While the Cares Act's FPUC expires on July 31, those who received the extra money may see it go away a few days before the end of the month. A statement from the Department of Labor on June 24 said, "The $600 can be paid for weeks ending no later than the week ending prior to Friday, July 31," according to USA Today. All states with the exception of one have Saturday as the date to claim unemployment -- New York does this on Sunday. This claim is then paid in the first half of the week depending on the state. This means people receiving FPUC will receive their final additional $600 prior to July 31.
What efforts are underway to extend enhanced unemployment benefits?
Congressional Democrats have continued to push for an extension of unemployment benefits. The Heroes Act passed by the House of Representatives in May, but not taken up by the Senate, would extend FPUC to Jan. 31, 2021. It would also pave the way for a second stimulus payment.
The Worker Relief and Security Act has been proposed by Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet and Jack Reed and Rep. Don Beyer. It would extend unemployment benefits until Trump declares that the state of emergency for COVID-19 is over. At that point, benefits would continue for another 30 days and then come to a close. Those still on unemployment would still receive weekly funds, but the amount would be reduced over the course of 13 weeks depending on the unemployment rate of each state.
Both proposals have been opposed by Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. GOP leaders have taken issue with the enhanced unemployment saying it discourages workers to return to their jobs. Sen. Lindsey Graham said in April that reauthorization of the unemployment benefits would get passed "over our dead bodies." McConnell said on July 6 that the next relief bill could contain a second stimulus check for those making $40,000 a year or less.
Mnuchin told Bloomberg on June 23 that there are discussions of another stimulus bill. He said, however, it would focus on the businesses most affected by the pandemic.
On July 1, Senate Democrats introduced a bill to extend unemployment aid until March. The money made available would be tied to the state's unemployment rate. When a state's three-month average unemployment rate goes below 11%, the amount of aid would be reduced by $100 until the average gets under 6%.
The White House and Senate Republicans agreed on the terms of an aid package. The proposal, called the HEALS Act, was introduced by McConnell on July 27. Not all the details were made available right away, but the GOP is proposing a reduction of the $600 a week to $200. Then in September, the benefit would be adjusted and combined with the states' unemployment offerings to equal 70% of a worker's wage.
Even if Congress does extend the aid before July 31, it will take two to four weeks for states to reinstate the benefits according to the Economic Policy Institute.
What is the HEALS Act?
McConnell unveiled the HEALS Act in the Senate on Monday. The $1 trillion package addresses several programs created or modified by the CARES Act such as unemployment insurance, the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Income Payments.
A big change in the HEALS Act is the adjustment of the FPUC, which was $600 a week in the CARES Act. It would drop to $200 per week through the end of September. Then starting on Oct. 5 -- which is a Monday, the day unemployment funds are usually dispersed -- the FPUC amount would be adjusted up to $500 to equal 70% of an individual's wage when combined with the state's weekly unemployment benefit.
So far, this has only been introduced in the Senate. Democratic congressional leaders were set to start negotiations with the GOP on the particulars of the plan Tuesday.
What happens on July 31 if no additional legislation is passed?
That additional $600 weekly bump will be discontinued. Those still eligible for unemployment benefits will continue to receive them from their states.