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Two leading senators, each a top name on his side of the political aisle, differ sharply over whether US workers have a right to the level of support coming to them in the massive, $2 trillion economic stimulus package nearing final approval in Congress to blunt the economic fallout from the novel coronavirus outbreak and COVID-19 pandemic.
In the United States, 68,802 have been reported sickened, with 1,037 reported deaths, according to the most recent figures.
The Senate approved the enormous rescue package as the US economy begins a freefall caused by the effects of the coronavirus outbreak. The House is expected to approve the legislation and send it to Donald Trump for his signature into law.
Even as the legislation was making its way through Congress, the nation’s unemployment rate spiked upward last week, with 3.3 million Americans reporting job loss, exceeding expert forecasts and breaking records going back to 1982.
Sen Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a prominent Republican, complained in an interview on Fox News about the benefits that struggling American workers can collect from the stimulus package.
“In my wildest dreams I would never believe we would pass a bill that would give you a pay raise if you got unemployed. I want people to get their income while they are unemployed but I don’t want to increase their wages because you incentivize people to leave their job,” Graham said. “In this bill, you will have 50-percent to 150-percent pay raises to people if they leave the workforce. Good luck with Amazon hiring 100,000 people because unemployed benefits in South Carolina equal $23 an hour. I’m really going to hire people in South Carolina when you’re competing with government wages at $23 an hour?”
Meanwhile, in a speech delivered on the Senate floor, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) who has also been running for the Democratic nomination for president, took Republican naysayers like Graham to task for miserly rhetoric toward struggling American workers.
“What this bill does is it says, rightly so, that in the midst of this terrible economic crisis where some people, nobody knows
— where some economists are estimating by June, unemployment could be 20 percent, 30 percent. What this bill does say is: whether or not you are eligible for unemployment today, you’re going to get employment compensation. And that means many of the gig workers–people that drive Uber cars, many of the waitresses and waiters making starvation-minimum wages, many so-called independent contractors–they will be eligible for the extended unemployment benefit. That is exactly the right thing,” Sanders said. “And the other thing that this bill does which is right is it says, ‘Okay, we are in the midst of a horrific crisis–unprecedented in modern American history–not only are you going to get your regular unemployment benefit, we’re going to add another $600 a week to it.’
“And now I find that some of my Republican colleagues are very distressed. They’re very upset that somebody who is making 10, 12 bucks an hour might end up with a paycheck for four months more than they received last week. Oh, my God, the universe is collapsing,” Sanders added, sarcastically. “Imagine that. Somebody is making 12 bucks an hour, now like the rest of us faces an unprecedented economic crisis with the 600 bucks on top of their normal unemployment check might be making a few bucks more for four months. Oh, my word. Will the universe survive?
“How absurd and wrong is that? What kind of value system is that? Meanwhile, these very same folks had no problem a couple of years ago voting for a trillion dollars in tax breaks for billionaires and large profitable corporations. Not a problem,” Sanders said. “But when it comes to low-income workers in the midst of a terrible crisis, maybe some of them earning or having more money than they previously made, oh, my word, we’ve got to strip that out.
“By the way, when the [Sen. Mitch] McConnell bill first came up unbelievably and I know many Republicans objected to this, they were saying that well, we want to give — whatever it was — a thousand or 1,200 bucks but poor people should get less because poor people are down here,” he added. “They don’t deserve — they don’t eat. They don’t pay rent. They don’t go to the doctor. They’re somehow inferior because they’re poor, going to give them less. That was addressed. Now everybody is going to get the $1,200. But some of my Republican friends still haven’t given up on the need to punish the poor and working people. You haven’t raised the minimum wage in 10 years. Minimum wage should be at least 15 bucks an hour. You haven’t done that. You’ve cut program after program after program and now, horror of horrors, for four months workers might be earning a few bucks more than they otherwise were.”
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