A group of Bay Area federal legislators on Wednesday called on the U.S. Senate to pass a House-approved COVID-19 stimulus bill that includes relief funding for state and local governments and extends the distribution of enhanced federal unemployment benefits.
Reps. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and Jerry McNerney, D-Antioch, held a virtual briefing Wednesday to demand an extension of the $600 per week in expanded unemployment benefits that was included in the first coronavirus relief bill in late March.
The benefits expired last Friday, something Thompson laid at the feet of Senate Republicans and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"Senate Republicans went home last Friday and they let these benefits expire," Thompson said. "Too many people in my district are dependent on these benefits to get by."
Some 30 million people in the U.S. have relied on the expanded unemployment insurance included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. According to the group of legislators, that includes roughly 3.2 million Californians.
The House's coronavirus relief bill -- the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act -- extends federal unemployment benefits for those who have lost their job due to the pandemic as well as funding for state and local governments teetering on insolvency and the U.S. Postal Service.
McConnell and negotiators in the Trump Administration have balked at extending the temporary $600 per week payments, opting instead of payments of around $200 per week.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin suggested on Sunday that the benefits disincentivized people to return to the workplace and, in some cases, amounted to more than people were making when they were employed.
Thompson threw cold water on Mnuchin's argument, citing studies from Yale University and the Brookings Institution that found scant evidence of unemployment benefits disincentivizing peoples' search for work.
McNerney suggested the cut in benefits would force his constituents and people across the country to choose between paying rent and paying for essentials like food and medical care.
"It's asking some to choose between the needs of their children and the needs of their parents, of whom are completely dependent upon them," he said.
Thompson and McNerney argued that House Democrats have already made their offer and Senate Republicans haven't negotiated in good conscience.
"The Senate needs to put something on the table that we can work with," McNerney said.
Eshoo argued that supportive funding for the Postal Service is of similar importance to extending unemployment benefits as the country lurches closer to a general election that is likely to generate a surge of mail-in voting during the pandemic.
Postal Service officials have warned federal legislators that the agency will be bankrupt by September if it does not receive federal aid.
"The health of our democracy is just as important as the health" of its constituents, Eshoo said.
McNerney argued that every day the Senate does not negotiate in good faith over the next coronavirus relief bill is another day that they're failing to support the American people.
"I've seen a desperation in my district and I'm sure it's going to get worse," he said. "We need to act now."
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.