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Rep. Richard Neal on unemployment benefits in the next COVID relief bill

Yahoo Finance's Jessica Smith speaks with Congressman Richard Neal as all eyes remain on D.C. for the next stimulus package.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: Down in DC, we have President Biden. He's meeting with a group of bipartisan lawmakers this afternoon to discuss supply chain issues, one of them, of course, being the current chip shortage that we've been talking about so much here at Yahoo Finance. Jessica Smith with a closer look at those discussions for us. Jess?

JESSICA SMITH: Yeah, Seana. We saw President Biden briefly at the start of this meeting with the bipartisan group of lawmakers, and he talked a little bit about the vulnerabilities that we've seen in supply chains over the past year. He specifically pointed out those chips, that issue that we're dealing with right now. And then he talked about the PPE shortage that we saw at the beginning of the pandemic.

So President Biden is signing an executive order today with the goal of preventing those types of situation. He is going to order a 100-day review of supply chains for semiconductors, rare earths, pharmaceuticals, and large-capacity batteries. He's also going to sign a more in-depth review of six sectors, defense, public health, information technology, transportation, energy, and food production.

Now, the goal of these reviews is to identify any potential problems in the supply chain, and then be able to take steps to fix that problem, potentially get ahead of a problem. Lawmakers have been talking over the past few years about the risk of becoming too dependent on other countries, like China, for critical goods. So we'll see what they come up with in that meeting with the president this afternoon.

And then we do expect President Biden to sign that executive order at 4:15. Adam and Seana?

ADAM SHAPIRO: Jessica, what about unemployment benefits? I know that you spoke with representative Richard Neal. Any insight on where we're headed with that?


Yeah, he is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. So his committee wrote the provision in the relief bill that's heading through Congress right now that would extend $400 a week in that boost to unemployment benefits. It would extend those enhanced benefits through the end of August. His counterpart in the Senate, Senator Ron Wyden, wants those benefits to go an extra month so go through the end of September

I asked Neal if he'd be open to extending the benefits, and here's what he had to say.

RICHARD NEAL: I think that we have to adhere to the rules of reconciliation. And I think that what the Ways and Means Committee put out and actually implemented in the CARES Act is the good mirror image that we want to create going forward. So I'm always open to the idea of improved legislation, but I think that what we did and the plan that came from the committee is pretty remarkable.

JESSICA SMITH: I know, Senator, Biden raised the concern that they could expire in the middle of August recess. And so you have a cliff at a really bad time. What do you say to that thought process?

RICHARD NEAL: Well, I think that those are reasonable concerns, and if they can be addressed, we should. And at the same time, recall that I think there is a bit of a safety valve that's built into the legislation, because some of the funds, the other categories, have not been fully expended.

And recall that when we wrote the CARES Act, we were trying to buy time. And when you consider that what we did in December with the $905 billion package-- some of that has yet to make its way into the economic system.

So I think that I could be moved based upon a pretty accurate assessment. But I also think that it's important for us, once we copper-fasten this legislation, to go forward with it.

JESSICA SMITH: Would you be open to considering automatic triggers at some point for those enhanced benefits, to avoid these cliffs that we see every little bit?

RICHARD NEAL: The challenge there is always one of the challenges you have in legislative life, and that is to make sure that you don't overdo it and make sure that you don't do it.

I think the nature of unemployment right now, given the pandemic, is considerably different than what we would believe to be conventional, largely because I think there are a lot of people on the sidelines that are itching to get back to work. And I think as the economy quickly improves this summer, that's likely to happen.

I mean, most of us who follow this, when you consider that credit card debt has been paid down, that people have set aside some of this emergency money for savings-- and I think as people make their way into the workforce, again, considering labor participation rates, ought to be what drives them and their decision making. So I'm open to talking about it, though. I don't know that right now, given we're on the precipice of getting this legislation done, we should do it.

JESSICA SMITH: Neal said he is optimistic that by the time we get to the end of August, there won't be the need for those enhanced benefits. So we will see what happens in the Senate. The House is set to vote on this bill this Friday. Adam and Seana?