Senate mulls best path to urge Americans back to work

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WASHINGTON (AP) — After the Senate decided to take a “pause” on new pandemic proposals to evaluate their effectiveness, senators are considering how to phase out coronavirus-related unemployment benefits to encourage Americans to go back to work.

The Senate also began efforts to fast-track an extension of a popular small business lending program.

“Republicans and the White House are reaching consensus on the need for redesigning the unemployment benefits so they are not a barrier to getting people back to work,” Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, told reporters on a conference call.

President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell met at the White House to discuss the issues.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed a new$3 trillion aid package filled with items unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic through the House last week. The Senate, under McConnell, says there is no urgency to act on that particular bill, and senators are expected to reconsider more aid in June.

Republican, Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, wanted agreement to extend the small business Paycheck Protection Program and pushed for more funds for state and local governments facing layoffs.

Senators were trying to fast-track a proposal to extend the Paycheck Protection Program’s expiration. The proposed fix would double from eight to 16 weeks the window for business owners absorbing losses because of the COVID-19 pandemic to spend their federally backed loans and still qualify to have them forgiven. The program was established in March under an earlier coronavirus response bill.

McConnell argued that it is better to assess how that money is being spent, he said, before approving more. He rejects the new $3 trillion package approved by the Democratic-led House last week as a “liberal wish list.”

Republicans are hopeful that as states reopen, the economy will improve, lessening the need for more federal funds. But if workers refuse to return to work, they worry companies can’t begin to rebound. If workers refuse to go back to work after being recalled they would be determined to have quit and lose unemployment benefits.

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