$600 unemployment payments will cut off earlier than some expect

Business

A woman wearing a facemask enters a building where the Employment Development Department has its offices in Los Angeles, California on May 4, 2020, past a posted sign mentioning the closure of the offices’ public access counters due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Unemployed residents counting on the extra $600 they receive each week through the federal CARES Act might be counting on the cash through the end of the month — but because of the way states distribute unemployment benefits, that money is actually set to cut off next weekend.

“Officially, the boosted benefits — part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed by Congress at the end of March — are not set to end until July 31,” Fox Business’ Megan Henney explains. “But states will only pay the extra cash through the week ending July 25 or July 26, even as the coronavirus pandemic and related economic lockdown continue to trigger a historic number of layoffs.”

A difference of a week may seem minor, but could make a significant difference in the lives of millions of out-of-work Americans who have been counting on every dollar to keep bills paid and food on the table during the coronavirus pandemic.

A potential extension for the payments has become a source of major tension in Congress.

The additional $600 per week has helped restart consumer spending, which drives the US economy, Deutsche Bank strategists told clients this week.

Since the start of the recession, personal income has “surged,” said the bank’s Jim Reid. This is highly unusual in a downturn, and can be attributed to massive government support, which also included cutting $1,200 stimulus checks, he said.

But some conservatives argue that extending the $600 payments beyond the end of July, would discourage people from hunting for new jobs.

“If you are making, say, $50,000 bucks a year, it is more advantageous to be on unemployment insurance than it is to go back to work,” Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, told CNBC in May.

Annelies Goger, Tracy Hadden Loh and Michael Gaynor of the Brookings Institution disagree with this view. In a piece for CNN Business, they argue that “a narrow focus on how these payments might disincentivize people from working is out of touch with the everyday realities of small businesses and workers alike in the pandemic economy.”

Canceling the benefit, they write, would have a “dramatic, negative domino effects on the economy and the vulnerable Americans,” hitting pocketbooks just as food prices are rising, eviction moratoriums are due to be lifted and cases spike across much of the country.

They also note that the people the extra $600 aids the most — low-wage workers — are also the group most likely to consume, helping to drive the recovery.

A study of the $1,200 stimulus checks by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago found that those living paycheck-to-paycheck spent 68% of the payment immediately, while those who save most of their monthly income spent just 23% right away.

Deutsche Bank thinks that Congress will take some action to address the coming cliff edge by the end of the month. But it’s not clear what the next phase of federal assistance will look like.

“Though we expect Congress to pass further stimulus in late July to address these cliffs, the two parties remain far apart on the contours of the next phase of federal support,” the bank advised this week.

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