WASHINGTON D.C. — A marathon session is underway in the U.S. Senate as lawmakers debate the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill passed by the House late last week.
As debate begins, Senate Democrats are pushing for an urgent passing. Sen. Gary Reters (D-Michigan) is calling it critical, as federal unemployment benefits are set to expire in just over a week.
“I still hear from folks all across Michigan daily, people who are struggling or without a job and find difficulties putting food on the table and a roof over their head and rely on unemployment benefits; those benefits will be extended in this package until August 29,” Peters said.
“If we do nothing, they come to an end on March 14, just a few days. Folks need to have certainty, particularly as we've seen just over the last month, the unemployment claims have actually increased in Michigan,” Peters added.
Debate could last hours if not days, same with the voting afterwards. Time is critical as millions struggle to stay afloat.
Grand Rapids mom of two Jessalynn Johnson joined Senator Peters on a press call Thursday afternoon.
“This pandemic and the events that have happened in the past year to year and a half has put us through unimaginable financial challenges,” Johnson said.
Johnson says she typically works two jobs to make ends meet, but with restrictions keeping one workplace closed, and her kids at home more often, bills are piling up.
Stimulus money could be a game changer for her family.
“In addition to being able to make sure that bills are caught up, I can also use this to help pay down some of my student loan debt, which has been a major burden for me financially,” Johnson added.
The Senate has agreed to one change to the bill, restricting who qualifies for stimulus checks to individuals making less than $80,000 per year.
Meanwhile Republicans appear unified in opposition to the bill. They say it is not targeted toward the pandemic.
“The $1.9 trillion plan has good objectives, but it's massively misdirected, but a lot of the spending is not going to where it's needed, that it's wasteful, that it's adding debt to our next generations,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said.
Democrats will need full support on their side of the aisle to pass the bill back to the House for a final vote.