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Bill Straub: Jobless wait nervously while McConnell dawdles on the unemployment supplement they need

More than 30 million jobless workers – including about 140,000 in Kentucky – will soon find that their unemployment checks used for superfluous purposes like, oh, food and rent and various other play pretties, are a little lighter during these mean economic times because, apparently, a bunch of folks here in Washington could care less.

Topping that list, unsurprisingly, is Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch’’ McConnell, of Louisville, who fiddled endlessly over the past few weeks well aware that extra benefits provided to the jobless as a result of the COVID-19 crisis were about to expire.

Back in March, Congress adopted the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program to provide an additional $600 per week to those collecting unemployment benefits. The primary intent was to boost the income of those who lost their jobs as a result of the novel coronavirus plague that has knocked the nation for a loop.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

The extra dough was one of the better steps taken by Washington as a result of the crisis. It has saved untold millions from having their belongings tossed to the curb because they couldn’t pay the rent. Kids who might otherwise go hungry were able to get at least a little something to eat.

The folks who benefitted from this plan lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Even the businesses that sent them to the streets can’t be found at fault – with no money coming in they simply didn’t have anything to pay them. Those on the lower end of the wage scale, service workers like waiters, were particularly hard hit. And as has become obvious, there are no jobs out there waiting to be filled as the nation waits, with ever-increasing anxiety, for the crisis to pass.

Unfortunately, the program that kicked in the extra $600 expired on July 31 and lawmakers are twiddling their thumbs while the people they are supposed to be representing sweat it out. The incidences of COVID-19 didn’t ebb, as had been hoped. In fact, they surged, leaving desperate people holding the bag.

The finger can unreservedly be pointed at one particular segment of Congress – Senate Republicans. The House, controlled by Democrats, passed a third stimulus package, this one for $3 trillion, that included extending the $600 extra benefit through January.

Senate Republicans, led by our boy Mitch, failed to respond with any sense of urgency, waiting until July 27 – four days before the expiration of the $600 – to release its own version of a stimulus package, setting the tag at $1 trillion and reducing the extra benefit to $200 and expiring the package at the end of September.

The GOP proposal, it should be noted, also included $1.75 billion to refurbish the FBI building in downtown Washington at the request of President Donald J. Trump, aka President Extremely Stable Genius, aka President Great and Unmatched Wisdom, who fears relocating the agency as planned would make the property available to developers who could then compete for business with his own hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. And it includes, as the National Taxpayers Union notes, “over $18 billion in defense spending that is completely unrelated to COVID-19.”

Since the Senate finally waded in, the two sides have been wrangling with no end in sight. McConnell and the Republicans tried to put a happy face on the situation – offering a temporary extension for the $600 – for one week, making it about as worthwhile as a snowball on the streets of DC in July.

Meanwhile, the nation, and Kentucky, may be headed toward an eviction catastrophe. According to The Rural Blog, led by my old pal Al Cross, Americans owe $21.5 billion in overdue rent. At the same time, moratoriums on evictions are drawing to a close. And, as usual, low-income folks, African-Americans and immigrants will suffer the most when time comes for the heave-ho.

Where, exactly, are these folks to go? Is there any doubt that an extra $600 in their unemployment check will at least help some retain their residences?

Reports are that McConnell is now willing to consider, reluctantly, an extension of the $600, realizing, perhaps, that public opinion during a period leading up to an election – including his own – isn’t the appropriate time to low-ball people tossed out of their jobs for catastrophic reasons. Ol’ Root-‘n-Branch has expressed a willingness to go along if it meets the approval is his BFF – the Trumpster.

But make no mistake – Moscow Mitch doesn’t like it. According to Politico, back in May, when the House offered its proposal for an extension, McConnell engaged in a phone session with House Republicans and promised that the extension “would not be in the next bill.”

McConnell at that time vowed that GOP lawmakers would have to “clean up the Democrats’ crazy policy that is paying people more to remain unemployed than they would earn if they went back to work.”

That’s the McConnell and GOP rationale – people will not accept an offer of employment if they can accrue greater earnings cashing unemployment checks. Among those in concert with ol’ Root-‘n-Branch’s determination is Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who told ABC News that the extra $600 would result in some recipients being “overpaid.”

“In certain cases where we’re paying people more to stay home than to work, that’s created issues in the entire economy,” Mnuchin said.

Where to begin.

First the obvious – no one is going to get rich, even comfortable, collecting unemployment. Even if some folks pocket a few extra bucks above what they might usually earn, it means they’re probably not getting paid enough for their services to begin with. It’s extraordinarily more important at this juncture that kids get fed and mortgages get paid than worry about someone pulling in enough extra cash to buy an espresso at Starbucks.

What’s more, is there any data, other than anecdotal, to indicate people are declining jobs in order to collect unemployment benefits? It seems folks like Mitch and Mnuchin have very little faith in the American workforce, figuring folks would rather go on the dole than work for their money.

While we’re at it, what does it say about GOP priorities that they are willing to spend gobs of money on a refurbished FBI building – which needs to be replaced – and some defense programs but little on the residents of the United States of America, their constituents?

But here’s the beauty of it – THERE AIN’T NO JOBS! Even if they are right, that American workers are lazy ingrates, COVID-19 is making it nearly impossible to find a job.

It’s all rather obvious.

McConnell delayed offering up a Senate bill, risking the $600 benefit, hoping it would force House Democrats to make a deal. It didn’t work. Now, with their pants securely fastened around their collective ankles, Senate Republicans are open to a compromise.

Meanwhile, unemployed workers with debts piling up, sit and wait.

And the beat goes in.

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  1. Richard says:

    Things are getting better. People are slowly going back to work. The unemployment rate is dropping. [Employment Situation report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the economy added 120,000 jobs, dropping the unemployment rate to 8.6 percent]. Yet the democrats want a 3.4 trillion dollar package [See article in Forbes magazine from 8/4]. The last package was 2 trillon. Why do we need to spend more? Seems illogical, but that is the democrat party for you. It is likely a political manuver. Democrats know the Republicans won’t go for it. Nothing will get done, and in this election year, that is exactly what the democrats want, to make President Trump look bad. Sad when some people are still suffering, but the democrats won’t budge on this massive spending bill.

  2. Jerry Smith says:

    Mr. Straub, Mr. Straub, as usual you miss the forest for the trees as you fight a mega-war against straw men. By demanding the government keep up extra $600-per week payments to everyone forever, you either don’t know, or pretend not to know, that even federal money is not inexhaustible! If business owners don’t have business and can’t pay their employees, they also can’t pay their taxes! That’s less money to the federal government and no way to pay these endless trillion dollar stimulus programs.

    A better (but not perfect, I know) idea is to open up the world 100% and let the virus run it’s course. Keep all safety precautions and let adults take their chances. Enough governor power grabbing and virtue signaling! We can’t afford to shut down forever, and the government can’t afford to pay people not to work. There are no good choices here, but bankrupting the government and destroying the economy should not be attractive to anyone, even if it means defeating your boogey man, our current president.

  3. Kevin LeMaster says:

    “A better (but not perfect, I know) idea is to open up the world 100% and let the virus run it’s course. Keep all safety precautions and let adults take their chances.”

    That’s not only imperfect, but extremely inconsiderate and dangerous.

  4. ruth bamberger says:

    Now that Trump issued four new dubious executive orders over the weekend, it is time for McConnell, if he has any ounce of courage in his blood, to face the House and Whitehouse leadership and hammer out a plan to address this employment and rental housing crisis. It’s appalling that he waited until late July to come out with a Senate plan months after the House passed theirs. Too bad we can’t lock these politicians in a room until they hammer out a compromise. Up to now, McConnell ranks an “F-” in leadership.

  5. Jon says:

    Yep just let the virus run its course, killing whoever is unlucky enough to be exposed to anti mask geniuses. And why should we keep paying extra unemployment for the rest of the year, hell, since there’s only 1 job for every 4 unemployed person, I guess it fits with your proposal. Maybe with any luck the virus will kill off the other 3 and then everyone who needs a job can finally get one!

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