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White House chief of staff details plan for unemployment benefits; pins recovery on therapeutics and vaccine

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As 25 million people prepare for the expiration of expanded pandemic unemployment assistance, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows attempted to push back Sunday against speculation that out-of-work Americans would face gaps in the assistance they receive, and characterized Republicans’ opposition to extending the $600 per week federal benefit as an incentive to encourage people to return to the workforce.

“The original unemployment benefit actually paid people to stay home, and actually a lot of people got more money staying at home than they were going back to work, and so the president was very clear, our Republican senators have been very clear, we’re not going to extend that provision,” Meadows said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The forthcoming Republican coronavirus relief package will set unemployment insurance at 70% of one’s pre-pandemic wages, Meadows explained, but with that bill delayed this past week by disagreements within the GOP caucus and Democratic opposition looming, the chief of staff was pressed by ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos about whether those receiving assistance will face a pause in payments after the initial benefits expire at the end of July.

One workaround, as described by Meadows, could be for Congress to pass time-sensitive components of the package first, then negotiate the rest later — despite Democrats having already voiced opposition to a piecemeal process.

“Honestly, I see us being able to provide unemployment insurance, maybe a retention credit to keep people from being displaced or brought back into the workplace; helping with our schools,” Meadows said. “If we can do that, along with liability protection, perhaps we put that forward, get that passed and we can negotiate on the rest of the bill in the weeks to come.”

MORE: Democrats knock Republicans for ‘disarray’ over expiring unemployment benefits

Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin are serving as the Trump administration’s lead negotiators on the forthcoming coronavirus relief bill, which is expected to be unveiled early next week. Mnuchin previewed details of the legislation for reporters Thursday, including a second round of direct payments to Americans and unemployment assistance at 70% of one’s wages, but continued discussion among the GOP caucus delayed the package through the weekend. The chief of staff said that the pair will again spend part of the day at the Capitol on Sunday working on the legislation.

PHOTO: Mark Meadows exits Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, on May 14, 2020. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Mark Meadows exits Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, on May 14, 2020. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

With positive COVID-19 cases continuing to surge across much of the United States, President Donald Trump faces calls to slow down his push for schools to reopen this fall and issue a nationwide facemask mandate. On “This Week,” Meadow’s maintained that the administration’s attention is fixed on long-term solutions.

“I think we have to focus, obviously, on trying to make sure that there’s therapeutics, vaccines, a number of mitigation therapies, hopefully, for those that are suffering from coronavirus,” he said. “We’ve been working around the clock. The president’s been very clear — whatever amount of money, whatever amount of time needs to be invested, we’re doing that.”

MORE: ‘They’re going to fall off a cliff’: August set to bring new financial anguish as coronavirus aid lifelines expire

“We’re hopeful that with some of the breakthrough technology on therapeutics, that we’ll be able to announce some new therapies in the coming days,” Meadows continued.

This is a developing news story. Please check back for updates.

White House chief of staff details plan for unemployment benefits; pins recovery on therapeutics and vaccine originally appeared on abcnews.go.com



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