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8 million more Americans live in poverty now as GOP refuses to pass relief

The House has passed emergency aid to jobless Americans, but the McConnell-led Senate has refused to act.

By Emily Singer - October 15, 2020
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

The number of people in the United States living in poverty grew by 8 million since May, according to a study by the Columbia University Center on Poverty & Social Policy released Thursday — a surge fueled by the economic downturn during the pandemic and the expiration of added weekly unemployment payments back in July.

The study found that the $1,200 one-time payments to those earning under a certain income threshold, coupled with an added $600 per week of unemployment insurance for laid-off workers received, helped stave off an increase in poverty at the beginning of the pandemic.

However, once Senate Republicans allowed those payments to expire in July, the number of people living in poverty began to climb — hurting children, as well as Black and Hispanic populations, the most, the study found.

“Due to the expiration of the CARES Act’s stimulus checks and $600 per week supplement to unemployment benefits, the monthly poverty rate in September was higher than rates during April or May, and also higher than pre-crisis levels,” the study found.

House Democrats have twice passed an extension of the $600 weekly unemployment checks — once in May, before the payments expired, and again in early October.

However, the Senate — led by Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — has refused to take up those bills, claiming they were too expensive and not needed.

Senate Republicans let the payments expire at the end of July, before leaving Washington, D.C., for nearly a month. Upon their return, the GOP-led Senate has been unable to pass coronavirus aid.

A number of Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), have been opposed to the increased unemployment insurance payments to workers from the start, claiming they incentivize those out of work to be lazy and not search for jobs.

Graham had claimed that people would leave the workforce in order to collect the payments — a comment that made no sense, as those who voluntarily quit jobs are typically not eligible for unemployment checks.

“You’re literally incentivizing taking people out of the workforce at a time when we need critical infrastructure supply for the workers,” Graham said in March, referring to nurses.

And in April, he declared that he would never allow the added unemployment insurance payments to be extended.

“July the 31st is when this expires and I promise you, over our dead bodies, this will get reauthorized,” Graham said back in April of the $600 weekly unemployment insurance boost.

That argument is false, and was proven false by the past few monthly jobs reports that showed millions of Americans going back to work.

However, job growth has slowed and the number of permanently unemployed is now on the rise.

And Senate Republicans are still refusing to pass any more coronavirus aid — even though polls show voters are clamoring for financial help amid the economic downturn.

Instead, the Senate is prioritizing the unprecedented confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett less than three weeks from the election.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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