U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says a new coronavirus economic aid package being unveiled Monday would pay the country’s 16 million unemployed workers 70% of their one-time salaries, but tough negotiations lie ahead with opposition Democrats over the scope of more assistance to offset the severe economic effects of the pandemic.
Mnuchin, on the “Fox News Sunday” show, called the 70% wage replacement figure “a very fair level.”
However, the new figure, if eventually adopted by Congress, would sharply cut the national government’s current $600-a-week boost to less generous state unemployment benefits that expire Friday, to perhaps $200 a week.
“I think workers understand you shouldn’t be paid to stay home,” Mnuchin said.
On CNN, Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow called the 70% figure “quite generous.”
The White House and its Republican allies in Congress have sought to cut the federal unemployment benefits to end a significant effect of the bigger payments that have been in effect since March: about 60% of the unemployed workers over the last four months have been receiving jobless payments that were bigger than what they were earning when they were working.
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One mid-May report reported that a fifth of the unemployed workers declined requests from their employers that they return to work because their wages were lower than what they were collecting in jobless benefits.
Kudlow said the overall $1 trillion economic aid package would include another round of $1,200 checks to most adults in the U.S. and payments to businesses to retain employees rather than cut the size of their workforces.
But Democratic lawmakers are demanding that the $600-a-week boost in payments to the jobless workers be kept in place through the end of 2020. They are pushing for an overall coronavirus aid package totaling $3 trillion, the figure approved by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives in mid-May.
“I see no reason why we can’t move quickly,” Mnuchin said. But Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican majority leader, said late last week that completion of a new deal could take weeks.
Meanwhile, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told ABC’s “This Week” show that the administration is “hopeful” that it can announce new therapies to treat the coronavirus “in the coming days.”
“The president has been very clear — whatever amount of money and whatever amount of time needs to be invested, we’re doing that,” Meadows said.
“We’re not going to have a solution to this,” he said. “It’s not masks. It’s not shutting down the economy. Hopefully it is American ingenuity that will allow for therapies and vaccines to ultimately conquer this."
Meadows’s comments came after Trump acknowledged last week that the virus will “get worse before it gets better” after previously downplaying the surge in new infections in the U.S.
The U.S. has recorded nearly 4.2 million coronavirus cases and more than 146,000 deaths, with both figures more than any other national figures across the globe.