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Congress debates as federal unemployment nears cutoff date

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WASHINGTON - As negotiations continue on a fourth COVID-19 stimulus package, hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers in Louisiana and millions more across the country are days away from losing hundreds of dollars weekly in federal aid provided through the CARES Act earlier this year.

"We're head on a trajectory where the current unemployment assistance is going to expire, and you probably will have a little bit of a gap," Rep. Garret Graves said.

Republicans on Capitol Hill are still going back and forth with the White House to reach an agreement on extending the federal unemployment aid that expires at the end of the month. Graves expects those out of job to continue getting some help for a little while longer, but the current $600 weekly rate.

"I do think we ought to provide some transitionary," Graves said. "I don't think we ought to do just a cold turkey [expiration.] But I don't think the transition should be the $600 supplement, because I think this is really important, people should not be making more money unemployed than they were making when they worked."

In Louisiana, unemployed workers currently collect the federal $600 weekly on top of the maximum weekly benefit of $247 paid by the state.

As debate rolls on, some lawmakers are calling for only $200 or $400 a week. Others, including Rep. Cedric Richmond, the only Democrat in Louisiana's Congressional delegation, want the current benefits to continue without a change. Graves says the amount should depend on each individual.

"Tying it back to something relative to how much that person was making before or tying it back to how much the state of Louisiana provides through their unemployment program right now," Graves said.

As the Senate bill, which could include this extended unemployment relief, is still being crafted both of Louisiana's senators, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy weighed in.

In a statement to WBRZ, Sen. Cassidy expressed willingness to provide extended, but reduced, unemployment assistance: 

“We can’t make the economy worse with policy. We have to recognize these are extraordinary times. We have to take care of families as they struggle to keep their lives together. But at the same time, we cannot incentivize people not to work. It’s not good for them, it’s not good for their job skills. It’s not good for emerging from this with a strong economy."

Sen. John Kennedy's office released the following statement on his behalf:

“While the Senate hasn’t released a bill yet, the senator is committed to studying any proposal—including employment provisions—that comes up for a vote and whether that bill serves the people of Louisiana.”

As D.C. wheeling and dealing continues, Graves says his message to those in the Louisiana unemployment line is that continued relief is coming.

"There will be some type of transitionary unemployment assistance that likely will either be a sliding scale down, or you would drop down to a lower figure that would continue for a period of time," Graves said.

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