Staying Afloat

July 28, 2020
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Senate Republicans unveiled their opening bid for the government’s “Phase 4” economic relief package. What follows are negotiations with Senate and House Democrats. According to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), there are desirable portions of the HEALS Act such as liability, financial, and unemployment reforms.

AGC chief executive officer Stephen E. Sandherr reacted to the Senate Republicans' version by saying, “Senate Republicans have crafted a relief measure that includes a number of vital provisions that will allow hard-hit construction firms to begin rebuilding their businesses and payrolls. Among the most promising of these provisions are liability reforms so construction firms that are protecting workers from the coronavirus will not be subjected to needless litigation. The proposal also includes important improvements to the Paycheck Protection Program and much-needed expansion of the Employee Retention Tax Credit, both of which will help protect construction jobs.”

But Sandherr also pointed out the “virtual lack of funding for infrastructure improvements.”

In referring to the existing federal unemployment insurance benefit, he says the new proposal takes a more thoughtful approach by “protecting unemployed workers without creating artificial barriers to returning people to good-paying jobs in sectors like construction. And the ambitious workforce development provisions in this measure have the potential to help millions of unemployed prepare for new careers in middle-class professions like construction.”

I’m not sure what Sandherr means by “creating artificial barriers” but I do take issue with the Republicans’ HEALS Act restructuring the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefit. FPUC originally provided $600/week on top of state-level unemployment insurance payments and is now set to expire. This extra $600/week has helped countless families keep their households together and survive the adverse effects of the pandemic response. They use it to pay bills and put food on the table so they can be well enough to start working again when called to do so. In restructuring the FPUC benefit, Republicans look to decrease it to $200/week through September 2020.

This would be a major blow to households hanging on by a thread. Families have already lost jobs robbing them of stability. Workers prefer the stability of a job over temporary unemployment benefits. When they can return to their jobs, no amount of unemployment money will stop them from going back to work.

I am hoping when the restructured FPUC is finalized and enacted, it will keep intact the current level of $600/week. And hopefully, families can continue to stay afloat until the benefit is no longer needed.