Wyden holds to 6-month extension of jobless benefits
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden says he supports a full six-month extension of federal unemployment benefits, but also congressional passage of President Joe Biden's pandemic aid plan before those benefits expire in mid-March.
The Oregon Democrat, who leads the Senate's tax-writing Finance Committee, spoke Monday, Feb. 22, in a national conference call with reporters. He spoke as the House Budget Committee passed its version of Biden's $1.9 trillion plan, though it would continue unemployment benefits only through the end of August.
Biden and Wyden want the deadline set closer to Sept. 30, the end of the federal budget year. Congress normally takes a summer recess that ends around Labor Day.
"Why would you want to create another cliff in the middle of the August recess?" Wyden said. "Normally everybody would come back in the fall and work on this starting in the new fiscal year. Doing this in the middle of August is a prescription for trouble."
Wyden would not say what the Senate would cut, if anything, to allow for the extra month of benefits not part of the House plan. He did say there are backstage discussions among senators, who will get at most a week or two to consider the plan.
Several unemployment programs, including benefits for self-employed and gig workers that Wyden got included in the original CARES Act last spring, were extended from Dec. 26 to March 13 as a result of legislation that Congress passed and then-President Donald Trump signed on Dec. 27. The short delay caused some benefits to lapse temporarily, although the Oregon Employment Department kept payments going to thousands without interruption.
Wyden said he wants to see final congressional action before the March 13 expiration date.
"I really want to get this out early in order to get it passed," he said.
Wyden said he favors, as does Biden, an attempt to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 in stages to $15. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Oregon is among 29 states with higher minimums than the federal wage.
Biden has said he is unsure whether the Senate parliamentarian will allow consideration of a wage increase in the aid plan under the rules governing "budget reconciliation," which allows some money measures to pass with a majority of 51 votes instead a filibuster-proof 60 votes. A couple of the 50 Democrats say they oppose an immediate increase.
The gross federal minimum wage, at $290 per week, is less than the $400-per-week supplemental unemployment benefit included in the Biden and House aid plans. Wyden said
"We want to make sure that people are making enough in order to make rent and buy groceries," Wyden said.
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