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by Bryan Renbaum, MarylandReporter.com
A proposal by Republicans on Capitol Hill to reduce enhanced unemployment benefits in the $1 trillion coronavirus aid package has reignited the debate on whether the GOP’s federal stimulus plan could help or hurt Maryland’s economy.
Senate Republicans unveiled parts of the legislation on Monday afternoon-just four days before the authorization for the extra $600 a week in benefits that many Americans have been receiving since the beginning of the pandemic is set to expire. The Republican plan would reduce the additional weekly benefit amount to $200. That means Maryland claimants would receive a maximum of $630 a week. Right now the maximum weekly benefit is over $1,000. Democrats oppose the legislation and have decried the proposed cuts to enhanced benefits as an attack on both the poor and the middle class.
MarylandReporter.com asked the state’s business leaders to assess the proposal.
“The hidden danger of dependence on the enhanced UI benefit is that the beneficiaries may have become dependent on the additional weekly income. If that’s the case, even for a smaller contingent of those recipients, then a significant reduction in their weekly income would directly impact consumer spending, as well as tougher choices on paying mortgages, rent, healthcare or utilities,” Frederick County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rick Weldon said.
However, Weldon said he does not believe enhanced benefits discourage people from returning to work.
“If their employer is actually able to offer re-employment, then this would undoubtedly lead folks to be more open to returning to work, even at a lower level of pay then they were getting through their unemployment benefits.”
National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) state chair Mike O’Halloran, disagreed, saying enhanced benefits have led many people to turn down job offers because they were able to make more money receiving unemployment.
“NFIB is urging Congress to reform unemployment insurance so small businesses can quickly fill open positions and get the economy growing again. Part of that includes our opposition to extending the federal pandemic unemployment compensation as currently structured and making sure that any unemployment compensation does not exceed an employee’s prior wages. One in five small business owners has had an employee decline a job offer because they wanted to stay on unemployment insurance according to a recent NFIB Research Center survey.”
O’Halloran said the best way to help Maryland’s economy to get people off unemployment and back to work.
“When Maryland small business owners are hiring workers off the unemployment rolls then our state’s economy improves. We’re hopeful Congress acknowledges that and changes the current state of the unemployment insurance bonus.”
Benjamin Orr, Executive Director of the Maryland Center on Economic Policy, said in statement on Tuesday that the Republican legislation would do little to help struggling Marylanders.
“Many Maryland families are struggling right now. Nearly 1 million Marylanders are unemployed and about 1 in 4 adults living with children are struggling to afford enough for their families to eat because of the public health crisis and recession. This crisis is bigger than any in our lifetime, but the Republican proposal doesn’t meet the needs of our state or the moment.
“There is no increase in SNAP benefits to help people buy food for themselves and their families, no funding for homelessness assistance or additional rental vouchers, and substantially less money for laid-off workers even though the climbing numbers of COVID cases mean that many people are unlikely to be able to return to work soon.”