Thursday, 23 September, 2021
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US jobless benefits expire for millions

US jobless benefits expire for millions

WASHINGTON: Expanded unemployment benefits that have kept millions of Americans afloat during the pandemic expired on Monday, setting up the abrupt cutoff of assistance to 7.5 million people as the delta variant rattles the pandemic recovery.

The end of the aid came without objection from President Joe Biden or his top economic advisers, who have become caught in a political fight over the benefits and are now banking on other federal help and a pickup this fall in hiring to keep vulnerable families from foreclosure and food lines, report agencies.

The US$1.9 trillion economic aid package Biden signed in March included extended and expanded benefits for unemployed workers, including a weekly US$300 federal supplement to state jobless payments, additional weeks of assistance for the long-term unemployed and the extension of a special programme to provide benefits to so-called gig workers who traditionally do not qualify for unemployment benefits. Monday’s expiration means that 7.5 million people will lose their benefits entirely and another 3 million will lose the weekly US$300 supplement.

Republicans and small-business owners have assailed the extension of aid, contending that it has held back the economic recovery and fuelled a labour shortage by discouraging people from looking for work. Liberal Democrats and progressive groups have pushed for another round of aid, saying that millions of Americans remain vulnerable and in need of help.

Mr Biden and his advisers have pointedly refused to call on Congress to extend the benefits further, a decision that reflects the prevailing view of the recovery inside the administration and the president’s desire to shift his political focus to winning support for his broader economic agenda.

Mr Biden’s most senior economic advisers say that the economy is in the process of completing a handoff between federal assistance and the labour market: As support from the March stimulus law wanes, they say, more and more Americans are set to return to work, drawing paycheques that will power consumer spending in the place of jobless benefits, direct cheques to workers and other government aid.