U.S. unemployment benefit increase from coronavirus bill set to expire

Negotiations over another coronavirus relief bill continue, the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives said as a federal jobless benefit was set to expire on Friday with no sign of a deal between the White House and Democrats.

CARES Act included provision for additional $600 US per week, but parties so far fail to hammer out new deal

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks to reporters during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Friday, where she said there was little progress to report in talks that would in part help extend unemployment benefit provisions enacted earlier during the pandemic. (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said talks with the White House on a new coronavirus aid bill were not yet on a path toward reaching a deal Friday, hours before the expiration of a federal unemployment benefit that has been an essential lifeline for millions of Americans.

Asked why she rejected a proposal from Republican President Donald Trump's administration for a one-week extension of the U.S. enhanced weekly jobless payment, Pelosi told reporters that such a move would occur "if you are on a path" toward a deal.

"We're not," Pelosi told a news conference.

However, negotiations were to continue on Friday between White House officials and congressional Democrats. Pelosi, the nation's top elected Democrat, said she thinks Congress and the White House eventually will come together on legislation, although she gave no timetable.

Referring to the mounting deaths from COVID-19 and rapidly rising cases, Pelosi said, "This is a freight train that is picking up steam."

In some of her toughest criticisms so far, she said that Republican delays on legislation and "distortions" about the pandemic have "caused death unnecessarily."

Lawmakers and the White House are at odds over efforts to further shore up the economy and manage the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has left tens of millions of Americans out of work and killed at least 152,384 people in the United States.

The CARES Act in March included a provision for an additional $600 US in jobless benefits for those eligible, with an expiry date of July 31.

A person looks inside the closed doors of the Pasadena Community Job Center in Pasadena, Calif., in May during the coronavirus outbreak. More than 1 million Americans per week have applied for unemployment since March, but an extension of benefits has yet to materialize as a deadline approaches. (Damian Dovarganes/The Associated Press)

The White House on Friday sought to put the onus on Democrats in Congress for a failure to renew the benefits, saying they had rejected four offers put forward by the Trump administration without countering.

"What we're seeing is politics as usual from Democrats on Capitol Hill," White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters. "The Democrats believe that they have all the cards on their side and they're willing to play those cards at the expense of those that are hurting."

Soaring jobless numbers

In a meeting Thursday night between top White House officials and congressional Democratic leaders, negotiations focused on an extension of the enhanced federal unemployment benefits, which Americans who lost jobs because of the health crisis have been receiving in addition to state jobless payments.

Over one million Americans per week have been filing jobless claims since March.

On Thursday, Senate Republicans tried, without success, to pass a bill reducing the jobless benefit to $200 per week.

According to a person familiar with the closed-door negotiations, the White House proposed reducing the $600 weekly payment to $400 for the next four months. While that was a move toward the demands of Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, the source said they rejected it as insufficient.

For weeks, top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell has said any deal must include a shield for companies and schools from liability lawsuits as they reopen.

Democrats want a wide-ranging economic stimulus bill that would include about $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments experiencing plunging revenues during the economic downturn.

In mid-May, the Democratic-controlled House passed a $3 trillion bill that the Republican Senate has ignored.

Several Democrats took to social media urging Republicans to act, as well as criticizing McConnell, who late Thursday sent the chamber home for the weekend without reaching a deal to extend the extra cash.

"Senate Republicans are letting the $600 federal unemployment insurance benefit expire today," tweeted New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. "This is the only thing keeping many American workers afloat during this crisis. We need to rectify this and pass an extension, now."

Virginia congressman Don Beyer posted tweets from constituents who have contacted him to communicate how vital the relief has been.

"Without that money, I cannot cover the mortgage and keep food on the table," one Virgnia woman said.

Also set to end, unless lawmakers intervene, is a federal moratorium on evictions that has shielded millions of renters, although some Americans remain protected by similar state and local actions.

With files from The Associated Press

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