As new figures showed 1.1 million new Americans filed for federal unemployment aid last week, Democratic lawmakers on Thursday took Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to task for his refusal to swiftly pass a House-approved measure to issue $2,000 stimulus checks to struggling workers.
“Another week, another nearly one million people losing their jobs—another clear reason $2,000 survival checks are urgently needed. Let’s get people real relief now.”
—Rep. Pramila Jayapal
According to the latest U.S. Labor Department statistics (pdf), 787,000 Americans filed first-time jobless assistance claims during the week ending December 26, including seasonal adjustments. An additional 308,262 people applied for aid under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides assistance for people including so-called gig economy workers who don’t qualify for government benefits.
In stark contrast, 220,000 people filed (pdf) first-time unemployment claims during the same period last year. Ten months into the coronavirus pandemic, more than 19.5 million Americans are claiming some form of unemployment assistance in a year in which “for 41 weeks in a row the country has seen more new jobless claims than in any week before 2020,” according to Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.).
There is still massive pain on the eve of the new year:
January 2020: US has 212,000 people a week filing new unemployment claims.
December 2020: US has 1.1 million+ people a week filing new unemployment claims. https://t.co/fe3IUVzHFa
— Heather Long (@byHeatherLong) December 31, 2020
Despite the staggering scope of the pandemic-driven unemployment crisis, McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday continued to reject the $2,000 stimulus checks—which the House approved in a stand-alone bill on Monday—as “socialism for the rich.” This followed remarks on Wednesday in which McConnell asserted that “the Senate is not going to be bullied into rushing out more borrowed money into the hands of Democrats’ rich friends that don’t need the help.”
McConnell’s stimulus stonewalling came as senators of both parties joined the majority leader in moving to override President Donald Trump’s veto of the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act. Only five Senate Democrats—Ed Markey (Mass.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), and Ron Wyden (Ore.)—voted against Wednesday’s motion to proceed, as did Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
“We’re in the middle of an unprecedented crisis in our country,” stressed Markey. “We have a healthcare crisis. We have an unemployment crisis. We have a hunger crisis. We have a housing crisis… The United States government should be responding to the needs, to the desperation, of families in our country at this time.”
Other Democrats expressed similar sentiments:
Another week, another nearly 1 million people losing their jobs—another clear reason $2,000 survival checks are urgently needed. Let’s get people real relief now. https://t.co/hStiz8Cf7R
— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) December 31, 2020
“No realistic path?” Are you kidding me? All you need to do is schedule the damn vote! It will pass and Trump says he will sign it. This isn’t rocket science. https://t.co/EDspsQEKjb
— Rep. Jim McGovern (@RepMcGovern) December 31, 2020
It’s more than a stimulus check.
It’s a survival check.
— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) December 31, 2020
McConnell’s remarks also drew stinging rebuke from Sanders, who after reminding the majority leader on Wednesday that “10 out of the poorest 25 counties in the United States of America are located in Kentucky,” sarcastically said on Thursday that he was “delighted that after talking on the floor of the Senate for years about socialism for the rich,” his Republican colleagues finally understood the issue.
“All of a sudden Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans are worried that someone in America might get a $2,000 check ‘who doesn’t need it,'” Sanders tweeted Wednesday. “Funny, they had no problem giving a $1.4 billion tax break to Charles Koch and his family with a net worth of $113 billion. What hypocrisy!”