Record editorial: Congress must act quickly to protect unemployed workers
The end of the month could be a harrowing time for thousands of Summit County residents.
That’s when the enhanced federal unemployment benefits that provide $600 a week on top of state aid are set to expire. The money, approved as part of the CARES Act in March, is a vital lifeline for people who’ve lost their jobs during the pandemic and are struggling to find new work.
For many, it can be the difference between making rent or missing it, putting food on the table or going hungry.
While Congress is working on another round of pandemic aid, Aug. 1 is a week away and as of Friday afternoon there was no framework in place to extend the unemployment benefits.
It’s crucial that lawmakers quickly reach an agreement and avoid a lapse in payments for people whose lives have been upended by the pandemic.
What will happen if they don’t? Ask the 9.5% of Summit County residents who remained unemployed in June, according to the latest figures released by the state Department of Workforce Services. Using the Census Bureau’s population estimate for the county, that’s some 4,000 people.
Summit County residents should be flooding the phone lines of Utah’s congressional delegation until a benefits extension is signed into law that ensures those people continue to get the help they need.
We must also demand that Republicans resist their instinct to reduce the size of the weekly checks based on the contention that the money, which in some cases allows recipients to earn more on unemployment than they were making at work, disincentivizes people to find jobs.
At first glance, the argument is rational. It’s imperative for the economic recovery, their thinking goes, that folks who are able to return to work do so. But many economists counter that the $600 payments are a net positive, as most recipients pump the money right back into the economy in the form of housing payments or trips to the grocery store.
Further, oft-repeated concerns about the fairness of paying the unemployed more to not work ring hollow when viewed against Congress’s long history of opening the federal government’s pocketbook for corporations — be it Wall Street, auto manufacturers or the airline industry — any time they come asking, hat in hand.
This time, it’s the well-being of thousands of our friends and neighbors in Summit County, along with that of millions of other Americans, at stake. Tasked with leading the country through a generational crisis, Congress must come together and do the right thing.
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