Capito: Lawmakers need to ‘target’ coronavirus relief

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — While federal lawmakers are not close to reaching a deal on a fifth coronavirus relief bill, U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., says legislators need to pass a “targeted” measure before the August recess begins.

Capito, during an appearance on Thursday’s “MetroNews Talkline,” addressed the $1 trillion measure announced earlier this week, which includes another round of stimulus payments and a reduction in the expanded unemployment benefits.

“Remember, we have already sent $3.3 trillion, of which a trillion has still not gone out,” she said, referencing other coronavirus relief efforts.

Capito called the proposal — the HEALS Act — more focused than other bills; the measure would provide schools across the country with a combined $105 billion for student safety as well as additional funding for coronavirus testing and vaccine research.

She also spoke favorably of how the bill allows local and state leaders more flexibility for utilizing federal relief funding. Capito said the money could be used to address revenue shortfalls caused by the pandemic.

The latest proposal would extend emergency unemployment benefits, but at a reduced amount; the payment increase, which will expire Friday, would go from $600 a week to $200 a week through September under the HEALS Act. The expanded benefit would be replaced in October with a payment worth up to $500 when combined with state unemployment benefits, covering 70% of lost wages.

Capito said the $200 reduced increase is a starting point in discussions, stressing the $600 increase needs to change.

“We found in the $600 that, in some cases, people can make more on unemployment than they would at their job,” she said. “I understand these are tough times, but we’re having some small businesses and manufacturers having trouble calling people back.”

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., spoke last week in favor of reducing the unemployment benefit increase, striking a similar tone as Capito.

“$600 in rural America and rural West Virginia is sometimes more than what they make when they work on a weekly basis. If you lost your job because you had to shut down your business and because of the health care crisis, then we should keep you whole,” he told reporters.

The House of Representatives passed a $3.4 trillion package in May, which includes expanding unemployment assistance as well as funding for nationwide coronavirus testing and contact tracing efforts. Capito said the proposal’s cost is “too much money.”

“We have to target this in the correct places,” she added.

Capito said a deal will likely happen before the congressional recess begins on Aug. 10, even if it means passing a temporary measure until lawmakers return to the Capitol.

“I hate that about what we do sometimes,” she said. “We just patch over until we get to a broader agreement. There is a lot of Republican and Democrat agreement here. It’s just a matter of fill in the numbers.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told PBS NewsHour “about 20 of my members” are against an additional coronavirus relief measure, adding officials are considering “all options.”

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