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Heinrich: Tie COVID-19 unemployment benefits to health of economy

Any new coronavirus unemployment benefit passed by Congress should be tied to the health of the economy, New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich said.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich

The second-term Democrat said the amount of the benefit should be adjusted as the economy improves. When the benefit ends should also be tied to where the economy is, not an arbitrary drop off date, he said.

“The ideal outcome would be an extension with sort of a glide path where the benefits come down as the unemployment rate drops,” Heinrich said during a tour of a business in Corrales on Tuesday. “When you give people a glide path, you’re not dropping them into uncertainty tomorrow, but you’re also creating more urgency to get back into the workforce.”

As many as 156,000 New Mexico residents are facing uncertainty at the end of the month, according to New Mexico Workforce Solutions statistics. That’s because the $600 a week unemployment insurance benefit passed by Congress in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act will expire July 31. Most state residents will receive their last payment July 25.

“We’ve had a number of conversations about that, but there’s some pretty challenging politics there, including some who just don’t think we should extend them at all,” Heinrich said.

He believes the “gliding path” is an answer to criticism by some Republican senators who believe the current benefit encourages many people not to work because some are making more than what they would be paid on the job.

“That’s part of why I’m saying dropping the benefit over time as the economy comes back up and the pandemic is managed better is one way to transition people better than where we just drop benefits overnight,” he said.

The U.S. House included an extension of the unemployment insurance through Jan. 31, 2021, in the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, but the legislation has not gotten traction in the Senate, which returns from recess next week.

U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., have sponsored a bill to extend the benefits for the duration of the pandemic.

And Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, is proposing a back-to-work bonus of $450 a week that has support from the Trump administration.

“I would be open to something like that,” Heinrich said. “I think the key is that we should be managing things as smoothly as possible and not have big cliffs where things change overnight.”

The next COVID-19 aid package could also include a second round of stimulus payments. The HEROES Act would provide $1,200 for individuals making less than $75,000. Republicans, with Trump administration backing, are proposing $1,200 checks for those making less than $40,000.

“I don’t know if that is the right answer, but we’re going to need additional stimulus to keep us from slipping into structural recession,” Heinrich said.

He called stimulus checks an “immediate response,” and said Congress needed to be looking more long term.

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