US Congress fails to reach deal on relief package

The US Congress has failed to reach an agreement on a new relief package as the extra $600 unemployment benefits for roughly 30 million people expired.

The Democratic and Republican Parties seemed far apart from a deal, with unemployment benefits extension being one of the sticking points, and both sides of the aisle have traded allegations for failing to make progress, reports Xinhua news agency.

“Republicans tried several ways to extend unemployment benefits. Democrats blocked them all,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, tweeted on Friday.

“The country can’t afford this cynicism. Americans need help now,” said McConnell.

Earlier this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was the Republicans who have failed to act for over 10 weeks, calling on McConnell to “get his facts straight.”

“The House-passed #HeroesAct extends the enhanced unemployment benefits families are depending on — while his ‘proposal’ slashes benefits by $400 a week,” Pelosi said in a tweet, referring to the $3 trillion relief package drafted by House Democrats in May.

As part of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill passed in March, Congress agreed to provide $600 federal unemployment benefits per week on top of state unemployment benefits.

The Senate Republicans’ $1 trillion proposal, unveiled on Monday, would slash the federal benefits to $200 through September, giving an unemployed worker about 70 per cent of previous wages when combined with state benefits, while Democrats want to maintain the current level of benefits through January.

The White House and Republicans have contended that the $600 benefits have created a financial disincentive for people to return to work, an argument refuted by some economists.

As negotiations for the relief package stall, the US Commerce Department reported on Thursday that the economy contracted at an annual rate of 32.9 per cent in the second quarter, the deepest decline since the government began keeping records in 1947.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department reported the number of initial unemployment claims in the US rose to 1.43 million last week amid a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, following an increase in the previous week.

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