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Sen. Ron Wyden said it’s a ‘prescription for trouble’ to end jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., speaks at a Senate Finance Committee hearing at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 25, 2021.

Tasos Katopodis | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said Wednesday it’s a “prescription for trouble” to end jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed and gig workers in August, during a congressional recess, instead of September.   

Wyden also said that he would have preferred broader eligibility for $1,400 stimulus checks but is OK with a compromise policy backed by President Joe Biden, which would more strictly limit the number of Americans who get checks.

The Democrat-led House of Representatives passed a $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill Saturday that offers $1,400 checks to individuals who earn up to $75,000 a year and married couples who earn up to $150,000.

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Those limits are the same as two pandemic aid packages passed last year, which respectively offered $1,200 and $600 one-time checks.

Wyden is among about a dozen Senate Democrats who this week pressed Biden to support legislation that would automatically issue stimulus checks and jobless benefits. That aid would phase out as the economy improves.

The Senate is now debating the legislation. Democrats aim to get a bill on Biden’s desk by the end of next week.

Lower income thresholds

But Biden, in an apparent compromise with moderate Democrats, has backed a plan to have the $1,400 checks phase out more quickly than in past relief packages. Democrats can’t afford to lose a single vote to pass a bill without Republican backing.

Fewer Americans would receive checks as a result of the policy.

However, Wyden believes the policy would ultimately be a success for Democrats, since it doesn’t reduce the primary $75,000 (singles) and $150,000 (married couples) income caps.  

“I wanted to keep the income thresholds to receive a full $1,400 payment at the level in the previous relief packages,” Wyden said Wednesday in a press call. “And we have succeeded on that front.”

The House-passed legislation, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, would have fully phased out stimulus checks to single adults who make more than $100,000 and married couples who earn more than $200,000.

The Biden-backed plan would instead cut off any payment for individuals earning $80,000 or more, and married couples earning at least $160,000.

“I would have preferred what we had earlier,” Wyden said. “But I just don’t want to distract people from the basic accomplishment, which was my objective,” he added, referring to securing the $75,000 and $150,000 income thresholds.

Unemployment benefits

The House plan also extends temporary unemployment programs through Aug. 29. Wyden wants to extend that aid for an additional month, through September.

“It is a prescription for trouble to have this expire in August,” which would occur during a congressional recess, he said.

“I’m going to fight like hell to get this extended to September,” he said. “It defies common sense for Congress to set up another cliff, and it’s in the middle of August.”

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