Sen. Mitt Romney proposes plan to extend expired unemployment benefits amid COVID-19 pandemic

Cheryl Diaz Meyer, for the Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and two other Republicans proposed a plan Wednesday to extend recently expired unemployment benefits through the end of the year as negotiations continue on another COVID-19 relief package.

The legislation allows states flexibility to transition toward wage replacement and would phase in lower payments over the course of the next five months, according to the senators. Last week, Romney, Sen. Susan Collins, of Maine, and Sen. Martha McSally, of Arizona, introduced similar legislation that would ensure unemployed workers receiving federal benefits would continue to get them for the next three months.

Congress failed last week to extend enhanced unemployment benefits it put in place in March to help people through the coronavirus pandemic.

Republicans and Democrats remain at an impasse over another round of economic relief. The Democratic-led House passed a $3 trillion package in May, while the Senate Republicans countered with a $1 trillion bill in July.

Romney said millions of unemployed workers face extreme financial uncertainty while Congress negotiates the next relief bill.

“Let’s work together to make sure Americans don’t face additional burdens as a result of a sudden lapse in benefits,” he said in a statement.

Under the plan, states could choose to add $500 a week to the unemployment benefit or $400 per week if they prefer not to change the payment amount again in September. In September, the benefit would drop to $400 a week. From October to December states could choose an 80% wage replacement or seek a waiver for a flat $300 per week benefit if they are unable to pay an amount tied to 80% of prior earnings.

“We must act quickly to help families that have been hit hard by the pandemic. The phased approach our amendment creates would assist individuals who have been laid off by compensating them for their lost wages in a way that does not create a disincentive to return to work if they are able to do so. At the same time, it would support states’ efforts to upgrade their unemployment systems,” Collins said in a statement.

McSally said Americans who can’t return to work through no fault of their own should not be penalized because Congress is still negotiating the next coronavirus relief package.

“Unfortunately, dysfunction in Washington is at an all time high,” McSally said in a statement.

The longer term proposal for unemployment provides support for those still unable to work, while incentivizing people to return to work, she said. It would also encourage states to improve their processing systems, so individuals can get relief they need in a timely fashion, McSally said.

Dennis Romboy

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