Montana’s senators decry expiration of $600 jobless benefit

With the U.S. Senate deadlocked as the additional $600 in weekly federal unemployment benefits meant to supplement state benefits expires at midnight Friday, both of Montana’s senators called for action while placing blame on the other party.

In Montana, the enhanced federal pandemic unemployment compensation to eligible Montanans totaled $549 million, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry.

Total unemployment payments made in Montana were $769.6 million from April 13 to July 24, meaning the $600 federal payments made up 71% of everything paid out.

On Friday, a spokesperson for Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, said the senator backed “generous unemployment insurance.”

“Sen. Daines supports generous unemployment insurance and is very disappointed that Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats blocked a clean extension of the $600 unemployment insurance payment which would have given Congress time to reach a compromise,” the spokesperson said.

Back in March, Daines sent a letter calling for a “robust federal expansion of unemployment insurance” to the Senate majority and minority leaders before the unanimous passage through the Senate of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Roy Loewenstein, a spokesman for Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, called the proposal that failed to clear the Senate before the deadline “inadequate.”

“Mitch McConnell had four months to begin negotiations on the next round of coronavirus aid, but instead he put forward a totally inadequate proposal just as the clock struck midnight on benefits for unemployed Montanans,” Loewenstein said. “Sen. Tester is focused on making sure workers, front line health care professionals, businesses and families get the support they need to stay afloat while we work to slow the spread of this virus and get folks back to work.”

The federal money has supplemented what states pay in unemployment benefits, which does not fully replace an employee’s lost wages.