COVID-19 relief proposal could add slimmed-down stimulus check but would cut unemployment benefits

The Trump administration on Tuesday proposed a COVID-19 relief bill that would give most Americans a direct payment check, but would eliminate federal unemployment benefit payments in exchange.

The Washington Post reported that the new proposal would include a $600 direct payment to Americans, half of the amount of the first direct payment sent out in April. The plan would cut any additional supplemental federal unemployment benefits, but did call for an extension of emergency unemployment programs that are set to expire the day after Christmas.

Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, on Tuesday to talk about the plan that would cost $916 billion.

Mnuchin’s proposal comes after a bipartisan group of legislators offered a $908 billion plan that included $160 billion for state and local governments, money for small businesses and funds for testing and vaccine distribution, among other things.

That bipartisan plan has money earmarked for federal unemployment benefits.

It did not include money for direct payment stimulus checks.

According to Mnuchin, the Trump administration’s proposal includes both state and local aid, and COVID-19 liability protection for businesses and schools.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, on Tuesday suggested that aid to governments, along with liability insurance for businesses, be taken off the table for this package so negotiations can move forward.

Democrats have been holding out for more funds for state and local governments, while Republicans want liability insurance for businesses as a buffer against lawsuits stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mnuchin’s latest proposal comes as the two sides struggle to come together on a spending bill. Democrats have proposed bills as costly as $2.8 trillion, while legislation passed in the Republican-majority Senate last month called for upwards of $500 billion in economic aid.

Adding direct payments of $1,200 for eligible American adults would boost the cost of any relief plan by more than $325 billion.

While the cost is high, more legislators are signaling their desire to see direct payments in any COVID-19 relief bill.

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, R, said he is asking President Donald Trump to veto any stimulus bill that does not include direct payments to individual Americans.

“I continue to be flummoxed as to why there aren’t any direct payments on it. Everybody supported this in March,” Hawley said. “It’s the most useful, helpful and, frankly, popular aspect.”

Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said he would not consider voting in favor of a bill that did not include a $1,200 check.

“We very much appreciate the hard work that has gone into the current $908 billion proposal being drafted by a number of Democratic and Republican senators,” Sanders and a group of legislators wrote in a letter to Senate colleagues. “But, simply stated, given the horrific extent of the current crisis and the desperation that working families all over this country are experiencing, this proposal does not go anywhere near far enough.”

The letter was signed by Sanders, along with Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York; Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts; Jeff Merkley, Oregon; Ed Markey, Massachusetts and Ron Wyden, Oregon.