GOP senator floats bonuses for people to go back to work instead of extending unemployment


Many aspects of the newly released $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill from House Democrats are not designed to get the economy moving again, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, told CNBC on Wednesday.

Portman took particular issue with a provision to extend through January the $600-per-week federal unemployment insurance benefit, which some workers get on top of what states provide. The federal UI program, created in the economic rescue package approved on a bipartisan basis in March, is set to expire in July.

As many states start to reopen their economies, businesses are finding it difficult to lure workers who can make more on unemployment when they can get an average of $360 per week from their state plus the federal money, he said.

“If you are making $50,000 a year, it is more advantageous to be on unemployment insurance than it is to go back to work,” Portman said on “Squawk Box.” “That’s an example in this legislation of something that’s going to hurt, not help the economy.”

Portman, who served as budget director under during the George W. Bush presidency, said he’s “talking to Republicans and Democrats about” an idea to give bonuses to people who go back to work instead of extending the $600-per-week federal unemployment insurance payout.

“Why not provide a bonus to people to say, ‘If you go back to work, you can take some of this unemployment insurance with you.’ If you take $450, as an example, per week, remember this is per week, that would mean that in every state for minimum [wage] workers it would be more advantageous go back to work than to stay on unemployment insurance,” he said. “If you did a $450 bonus to workers, good for workers, they’re going to get their salary plus that.”

Portman argues that such a plan would “reward workers and work in general” and would pair with President Donald Trump‘s desire for a payroll tax cut as 33.5 million American filed for jobless claims over the past seven weeks.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The Ohio Republican stressed that reopening businesses in his state and around the country needs to be done safety, and that’s why he said he supports the coronavirus testing and contact tracing provision in the House Democrats’ relief bill.

Portman, who had been discussed at one point during the 2016 campaign as a possible vice presidential pick for Trump, added that more testing is “money well spent” because it would make Americans feel better about knowing who’s sick and who’s not as they return to work.

The new House bill could go to a vote as early as Friday. But it faces an uncertain fate in the Senate as many Republicans on Capitol Hill and the White House want to take a pause to see how the already unprecedented emergency fiscal and monetary measures work.

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