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President-elect Joe Biden’s pandemic relief package would extend income support for millions of unemployed workers through September 2021 and increase jobless benefits by $400 a week, according to a speech outlining his plan on Thursday night.
Biden would also phase out higher unemployment benefits automatically over time, tying aid to economic and health conditions, according to an overview of the plan obtained by CNBC.
Such a measure would relieve Congress of drawing up new relief measures every few months, thereby avoiding a benefits cliff like one workers experienced in December.
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The unemployment provisions are part of Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal, the American Rescue Plan. In addition to extra unemployment benefits, the package contains direct relief for struggling families in the form of stimulus checks, eviction and foreclosure protections, and food assistance.
“A crisis of deep human suffering is in plain sight,” Biden said Thursday. “We have to act and we have to act now.”
His plan comes on the heels of a $900 billion relief measure passed at the end of last month.
$400 unemployment boost
That law extended unemployment benefits by 11 weeks to mid-March. (Some workers can get four additional weeks.) It also gave a $300 weekly boost to standard benefits, which generally replace half a worker’s lost income.
Biden would up that supplement to $400 a week. That would be less than a $600 weekly enhancement provided by the CARES Act, and on par with a subsequent Trump administration Lost Wages Assistance subsidy.
“This gets money quickly into the pockets of millions of Americans who will spend it immediately on food, rent and other basic needs,” Biden said.
Six months of extra benefits
The president-elect would also extend the duration of benefits by about six months, to the end of September instead of mid-March.
That would apply to self-employed, gig and part-time workers collecting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, and recipients of Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, who exhausted their standard allotment of state benefits.
Those programs lapsed the day after Christmas but were reinstated by the recent relief measure. They support more than 11 million Americans, according to U.S. Labor Department data released Thursday.
In total, more than 18 million people were collecting unemployment benefits at the end of last year.
“[The extension] means 18 million Americans currently on unemployment benefits while they look for work can count on these checks continuing to be there,” Biden said.
Biden will seek to automatically adjust the length and amount of extra jobless aid based on health and economic conditions, which would prevent Congress from having to re-up benefits in fits and starts, according to the president-elect’s plan.
Such barometers may include Covid case counts or state unemployment rates, according to economists. Biden’s plan doesn’t stipulate an exact measure.
Biden again called the $900 billion December relief law a down payment on more relief for Americans amid surging coronavirus cases and a deteriorating economy.
The U.S. shed 140,000 jobs in December, the first month of negative growth since April. Nearly 1.2 million people filed a new application for state benefits last week — higher than the worst week of the Great Recession.
This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.