Trump admin opposes extending enhanced unemployment benefit

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2020 CQ-Roll Call, Inc.

Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia testifies during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on "COVID-19/Unemployment Insurance" on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, June 9, 2020. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration opposes a Democratic proposal to extend a $600 per week federal unemployment benefit approved in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said Tuesday.

The $600 payment, which is in addition to normal unemployment benefits, "was the right thing to do,'' Scalia said, but is no longer needed as the economy begins to recover.

The money, included in a government relief package enacted in late March, has helped millions of workers stay in their homes and pay bills even as the unemployment rate surged to its highest levels since World War II.

The payments are set to expire July 31, and Democrats have pushed a plan that would extend the enhanced benefit through January. The Democratic-led House approved the proposal last month, but it is considered unlikely to advance in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Scalia pointed to an unexpectedly rosy jobs report released last Friday. By the end of July, “we expect the economy to be deep into the process of reopening, with shutdown orders ended and millions of Americans freed to return to work,'' he told the Senate Finance Committee.

Unemployment benefits will still be needed in August and beyond, “but the circumstances that originally called for the $600 plus-up will have changed,'' Scalia said. "Policy will need to change as well.''

Democrats challenged that view, saying the unemployment rate is likely to remain at historically high levels through the summer at least.

Friday's jobs report showed that unemployment dropped unexpectedly in May to 13.3% as reopened businesses began recalling millions of workers faster than economists had predicted, but the jobless rate is still on par with what the nation witnessed during the Great Depression.