Senate Democrats’ COVID bill ends weekly $400 unemployment in August, not September

Sen. Ron Johnson speaks to reporters in 2020.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), hoping to delay passage of COVID relief, called for a full reading of the bill and urged fellow Republicans to take shifts offering amendments to drag out the “vote-a-rama.”
(Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

The weekly $400 federal unemployment supplements included in the economic aid package being considered by Congress are set to stop in August rather than being stretched through September, as some Senate Democrats had requested.

The chamber began formally considering the $1.9-trillion COVID-19 relief measure Thursday, a day after Democratic leaders agreed to cut by several million people which Americans will receive $1,400 stimulus checks. The concession was made to appease moderate Democrats worried about including higher-wage earners.

In exchange, some senators had pushed to extend unemployment benefits for the full six months that President Biden had requested, rather than the five months approved by the House. But that change did not make it into the final version of the bill. The $400 weekly subsidy is on top of state benefits.


Congress is usually off in August, so ending the benefit then might lead to a gap before they can act again.

The Senate released its version of the relief package after receiving assurance from the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation that it complies with budget reconciliation rules, which Democrats are using so they can pass the bill quickly without Republican votes.

The bill also removed an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 a hour because the chamber’s parliamentarian said it did not comply with the rules.

Republicans largely oppose the measure as unneeded and wasteful. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) requested a full reading of the 600-plus-page bill, a process that could take more than 10 hours and substantially delay its passage.

But Democrats remain confident they have enough votes to pass the package.

Once it has been read, the Senate will begin up to 20 hours of debate, followed by a “vote-a-rama,” when senators can submit any number of amendments.

Republicans have said they will make the process as difficult for Democrats as possible, forcing them to vote on hundreds of amendments or vote down politically popular ones.


Democrats are expected to have the votes to reject most amendments. There is no time limit on the process; it normally ends when objecting senators run out of steam. Johnson said he was asking fellow Republicans to sign up for shifts to keep going as long as possible.

The process could take all weekend, pushing back a final vote Democrats had hoped to take by Friday.

“No matter how long it takes, the Senate is going to stay in session to finish the bill this week,” Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

Unless they can persuade a Republican to join them, it will take all 48 Democrats, two independents and a tiebreaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris to pass the bill.

The GOP delay tactics may complicate Democrats’ plan to have the bill signed into law before unemployment benefits expire for more than 10 million Americans on March 14. Because the bill was changed in the Senate, the House has to vote again, and will probably have to accept whatever the Senate sends over.

In the Senate bill, $1,400 checks will go to single filers with annual incomes under $75,000, and be phased out entirely for taxpayers with incomes of $80,000 or more.

Joint filers with annual incomes under $150,000 would each get the full amount, but those making over $160,000 would get no check. Those filing as a head of household making under $112,500 will get the full amount, with the benefit phasing out at $120,000.

In the House bill, payments phase out at higher income levels: $100,000 for individuals, $200,000 for couples and $150,000 for heads of households.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a progressive research group, estimates 2.37 million fewer Californians would receive money under the Senate bill than with the House bill.
Nationally, an estimated
16.4 million fewer Americans will get a check.

The bill also expands the child tax credit to $3,000 from $2,000 — and to $3,600 for children under 6, and expands the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit up to $4,000 for the child-care expenses of one child, and up to $8,000 for two or more.

The measure includes $14billion for vaccine distribution; $49billion for COVID testing, tracing and genomic sequencing; and $8billion to expand the public health workforce.

The bill provides $40billion to support child care, including an emergency stabilization fund for child-care providers.

It also includes $12 billion for food aid, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or CalFresh in California), the food aid for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT), and extends the 15% SNAP increase through September. And it sets aside $45 billion for rental, mortgage and utility assistance.

Republicans say the bill should focus more narrowly on vaccines and getting people back to work or school. Two transit projects they complained about in the House bill, including one in Silicon Valley, have been removed in the Senate version.

GOP senators have also taken issue with $35 billion for state and local governments facing a loss of revenue in the economic downturn,: they say the formula for distributing the funds doesn’t consider whether a state’s economy is suffering.