U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) Monday called on Congress to extend enhanced unemployment insurance benefits in the coronavirus aid package that lawmakers are working on.
“We must extend enhanced unemployment benefits in the next Congressional relief package. We cannot abandon American families struggling to pay their bills and put food on the table. Not only would it cause further damage to our economy, but it’s also just plain wrong,” Van Hollen told MarylandReporter.com in a statement.
The extra $600 a week in benefits that many Americans have been receiving since the beginning of the pandemic is scheduled to end after this month. That means if no deal is reached Maryland’s claimants will receive a maximum benefit amount of $430 per week. Right now the maximum weekly benefit is around $1,000.
The debate over extending enhanced unemployment benefits is largely partisan. Most Democrats are in favor of extending enhanced benefits. Most Republicans are opposed to extending enhanced benefits. Democrats control the House of Representatives. Republicans control the Senate. The issue is only one area of partisan contention in the debate over crafting the next aid package.
Sen. Cory McCray (D-Baltimore City) said congressional failure to reach an agreement on extending enhanced unemployment benefits “would be tragic.”
McCray said if that happened many of his constituents would be at a loss.
“There’s a number of my constituents that are actually receiving those CARES Act dollars that are coming in. I know that they are receiving them because I’ve been bombarded with emails that have come because the state system isn’t as effective as possible in reference to making sure that customers are getting the services that they’re trying to get.”
Del. Brian Chisholm (R-Anne Arundel) said he understands why Congress decided to include the extra $600 a week in benefits but emphasized that the time has come for that to end.
“At what point do we stop?”
Chisholm said the policy is fiscally irresponsible.
“At some point, the government can only print so much money. I think a lot of people have a false sense of how a free market works. And to just continue to print money that our grandchildren are going to have to pay for at some point is unfair.”
Chisholm said he does not believe extending enhanced benefits will ultimately help get people back to work.
“I’ve never been a big believer that continuing to throw money at a problem is going to fix it…Anytime you’re asking a bureaucratic government to basically prop-up an economy things are going to go bad. And right now I think we’re in a hole. I think we put the shovel down instead of continuing to dig. And let’s just get people back to work so we can have the economy grow.”
Howard County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Leonardo McClarty said there are both pros and cons to extending enhanced benefits.
“I believe that Maryland families can’t help but be affected. There are many families that are counting on this extension. For some, their wages haven’t bounced back due to the jobs they hold and the hours they work. Simultaneously, there are some people that have come to count on these benefits rather than return to their place of employment. Thus, their employers are impacted as they try to recover. Like many matters these days, it is a complex situation.”