Jobless Benefits Spat Snags Senate's Huge US Relief Package

Jobless benefits spat snags Senate's huge US relief package

Washington, (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 26th Mar, 2020 ) :Republican opposition to expanding certain unemployment benefits was delaying Senate passage Wednesday of the largest economic rescue package in modern US history, amid fears that New York could be the next epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

The United States now has over 65,000 confirmed cases, the third-highest number globally behind China and Italy. About half are in New York state.

"We still have the trajectory going up," said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, adding that about 12 percent of the people who test positive require hospitalization.

Cuomo said health officials anticipate about 120,000 coronavirus patients coming into New York's hospitals, which have a capacity of 50,000 beds.

The state has around 30,000 confirmed cases, he added, with 285 deaths.

But the governor pointed to evidence suggesting New York's strict stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures have slowed the hospitalization rate.

"The arrows are headed in the right direction," Cuomo told reporters.

A congressional impasse however began to overshadow the deal reached overnight on the massive relief package.

Four Republican senators have balked at the generous provisions agreed to by Democratic and Republican congressional leaders and the White House after days of intense wrangling over the $2 trillion stimulus.

The package was expected to pass the chamber Wednesday and head to the House of Representatives and eventually President Donald Trump's desk.

But the Senate rebels argued that the $600 weekly extra benefit during the virus crisis, combined with standard unemployment payments, would surpass full salaries for many low-wage workers, potentially incentivizing layoffs.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin rejected the suggestion.

"Most Americans... want to keep their jobs," he told reporters.

"Our expectation is this bill passes tonight and gets to the House tomorrow, and they pass it," he added.

"We need to get this money into the American economy and (to) American workers." Over half the US population is now under some form of lockdown as authorities nationwide seek to stem the outbreaks.

Birmingham, Alabama and Charlotte, North Carolina have become the latest major US cities to order residents to stay indoors.

Wall Street stocks closed mixed as the markets awaited a vote on the $2 trillion package hammered out by congressional leaders to boost the US economy.