Democrats Advance $400-a-Week Jobless Aid, Key Relief-Bill Plank

The House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday advanced a key portion of President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 relief package -- a $400 weekly supplement to unemployment benefits through the end of August.

The measure passed on a 24-18 vote. The legislation cleared by the panel would also expand benefits for self-employed and gig workers and extend the number of weeks that long-term jobless individuals can qualify for payments.

Enhanced unemployment benefits are a central part of Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, which is being written into legislative text by lawmakers this week. Votes on other key components, such as checks to individuals and households, state and local government aid and money for Covid-19 vaccine and testing, are still pending.

The House Committee on Education and Labor earlier Wednesday approved a portion of the bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour -- though whether it can qualify for the legislative process Democrats are using remains undecided.

House panels are slated to approve all portions of the Biden package by Friday, and the chamber’s Democratic leaders aim to send the overall bill to the Senate after a vote during the week of Feb. 22.

Senate’s Take

Democratic lawmakers, who strongly support strengthened jobless assistance, are aiming to pass the Biden bill before the current expanded and extended unemployment payments expire on March 14. Senate Democrats are pushing for an even longer extension of the beefed-up help, through the end of September -- a change that could be negotiated once the bill clears the House.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden said he would “fight like hell” to get an extra month of unemployment benefits in the bill. Wyden and several other Democrats are also pushing for changes to streamline the online applications for benefits and to upgrade cybersecurity for state unemployment offices.

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