Mitt Romney proposes compromise on logjammed pandemic aid

(Susan Walsh | AP file photo) Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 19, 2020.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, proposed a compromise Thursday that aims to break a stalemate between Republicans and Democrats about how to continue extra unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The $600 each week in extra federal benefits has expired and Congress has struggled to come up with a deal to extend them.

Democrats have proposed to continue the $600 payments through January. But Republicans said it creates an incentive for some people not to return to work because they make more with the generous unemployment benefits.

So Republicans have proposed reducing the extra payments to $200 per week through September with a plan to set total benefits at 70% of lost income after that.

Romney introduced legislation Thursday that would be a middle ground.

It would allow states to choose between two options. One would provide extra payments of $500 a week in August, $400 a week in September or $300 a week in October. The other option would be to provide total state/federal benefits that are 80% wage replacement.

The proposal would also provide an additional $2 billion for states to update their unemployment insurance systems to better handle targeted wage replacement.

“Unemployed workers should not be left in limbo while Congress continues to negotiate the next relief package,” Romney said. “We should act with urgency to help the millions of Americans who are on the verge of losing these additional benefits.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, cosponsored the legislation with Romney, and said it is a reasonable compromise.

“As Congress continues to debate additional federal relief, we must avoid a sharp drop in benefits that would cause further harm to families that have been hit hard by the pandemic,” she said.

Later on Thursday, Romney also cosponsored another compromise over how big stimulus checks in new pandemic aid should be. That legislation was sponsored by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La, and cosponsored by Romney and Sens. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Stimulus payment from the CARES Act enacted in March gave $1,200 per adult and $500 per child. The Cassidy and Romney bill would give both adults and children payments of $1,000.

Under a House Democrats’ proposal, families would receive payments of $1,200 per non-dependent adult and $1,200 per dependent for up to three dependents. A proposal by Senate Republicans would provide payments of $1,200 per adult and $500 per dependent.

“With schools moving children to online learning from home, families in Utah and across the country have experienced unexpected challenges and additional costs for supplies during the last several months,” Romney said. “As we consider additional relief measures, we should prioritize families by providing them with resources to help with the extra expenses they face as a result of COVID-19.”

The proposals come as congressional leaders appeared to be far from any deal. For example, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer took turns attacking the other Thursday for inaction before the looming deadline.

Nationally, unemployment claims rose by 1.4 million last week and in Utah, they increased by 3,737.