Get all the latest news on coronavirus and more delivered daily to your inbox. Sign up here.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of the lead negotiators who worked on the Senate’s coronavirus relief package, responded Wednesday to what three of his colleagues called a “massive drafting error” related to unemployment benefits, in the latest twist to a process that has been marred by delays and last-minute hurdles.
Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Ben Sasse, R-Neb. have threatened to oppose fast-tracking the $2 trillion legislation unless the “massive error,” which they say would create an incentive for employers to lay off employees, is fixed.
“First of all, I think it’s important — we need to determine what is the intention here?” Rubio told “Your World.”
“Was the intention for people to make more [money from unemployment benefits] than they would at the job they lost? Because a lot of people are saying that was not the intention,” he added. “This might be a drafting error. If it’s just a drafting error, that is surmountable. If it is not a drafting error, I think it’s going to be a lot of problems.”
Scott, Sasse and Graham warned that the current version could pay workers more in unemployment benefits than they’re currently making by sticking a $600 per week payment on top of ordinary benefits that are calculated as a percentage of income. This could disrupt the labor market further, they explained.
Rubio acknowledged the issue, but said he doesn’t think it will affect his home state of Florida, which he said is unequipped to handle such a high volume of unemployment claims as his Republican colleagues warned against.
“My personal view is, we are probably not going to have this problem,” Rubio said. “If you look at the states like Florida right now, these unemployment systems that this is going to be distributed through are not set up to handle 20 or 25 percent unemployment. Just the sheer volume, you can’t get your phone calls answered. Websites are crashing. I don’t think any state in America has built an unemployment system set up to handle that volume of claims.”
Instead, Rubio pointed to the $367 billion allocated to assist small businesses in making payroll “so they can hire people and keep them from going on unemployment.”
“And they can bring them back [to work],” he added, referring to employees who have already been let go, “which is where I think most of these people would rather be.”
Rubio said his focus was making the application process for small business owners seeking the emergency economic relief simple, timely and straight forward.
“You can show up as a small business, [say] ‘Here’s my payroll … I’m a real business,’ and you get 250 percent of your payroll. If you use it to pay your employees, whether they are people you laid off and bring back or people that you keep on, you don’t have to pay it back,” he explained.
“We want to make it very simple, very quick. I’m hopeful. That needs to move very fast … because these people are making decisions every day and they are in desperate straits.”
Turning to President Trump’s goal of beginning to lift restrictions on the economy by Easter, Rubio said that while he would “love for this to be over” by then, it would depend on the country’s ability to contain the spread at that time.
“How much have we built up our capacity to handle the cases if there is a new surge?” he asked. “Are we now able to test people so we can effectively quarantine them so they don’t infect others, including their own family? Are we set up to protect every senior … so we don’t have outbreaks in nursing homes and retirement communities? Have we made any advancements on antivirals? I think three weeks is too quick to expect treatment options to be available that fast.”
“At the end of the day, this is pretty straightforward,” Rubio continued.
“If the infection rate [grows] too fast, we will have more people showing up at hospitals than we can handle. It impacts not just the COVID patients, it impacts everyone else … if you show up with a heart attack, car accident, they won’t be able to take care of you. We need to avoid that regional health care collapse that they are on the verge of in New York City.”
Fox News’ Adam Shaw contributed to this report.