WASHINGTON — On the verge of passing a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill, Senate Democrats agreed to lower the measure’s federal unemployment benefits to $300 a week and extend the coverage to September, according to two Democratic sources.
That’s a reduction from the House-passed version, which included $400-per-week jobless benefits through August, and it comes as the Senate begins a long series of votes Friday to finalize the package.
The new figure is the result of an agreement between progressive and moderate Democrats, one Democratic aide said.
Moderates wanted the weekly benefit to be cut to $300 per week. Many Democrats wanted the month-long jobless bonus to avoid a “cliff” as it expires at the end of August, when Congress is typically out of session and may be unwilling to come back to fix it.
It will be offered as an amendment by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.
“Having an unnecessary cliff for unemployed workers is not good policy,” Carper said in a statement. “We’ve found a way to avoid that and ensure that the millions of Americans who are still struggling to find work will see an immediate benefit before Tax Day this year.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., predicted the relief bill would pass.
“We’re not going to make the same mistake we made after the last economic downtown, when Congress did too little to help the nation rebound, locking us into a long, slow, painful recovery,” he said Friday on the Senate floor. “We are not going to be timid in the face of big challenges.”
The last-minute change shows that Democratic leaders are still working to ensure the support of all 50 of their senators. Due to likely unanimous Republican opposition, they can’t afford any defections if they are to pass the bill in a narrowly divided chamber.
In addition, the jobless benefit deal between Democrats allows the first $10,200 of the jobless benefits to be non-taxable, which Democrats say will prevent surprise tax bills for the jobless. It also extends tax rules on excess business loss limitations for one additional year, through 2026.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., criticized Democrats for pursuing a relief package without Republican votes after the chamber moved 51-50 to begin debate Thursday.
He insisted that Democrats shouldn’t get credit for the economic recovery.
“We are already on track to bounce back from this crisis. That’s not because of this bill. It’s because of our work last year,” McConnell said. “We’re going to come roaring back and mostly not because of this bill. In fact, in some ways in spite of this bill.”
Frank Thorp V contributed.