Sen. Martha McSally Sen. Martha McSally|Courier graphic by Desirée Tapia

Republican lawmakers voted against an increase in unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some Republican lawmakers who railed against increasing unemployment benefits in the latest coronavirus stimulus bill, including Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona, have had a change of heart now that it’s passed. 

In a press release, McSally boasted that she helped “provide swift aid to Arizona families, small businesses, hospitals, and tribal communities facing financial insecurity due to the coronavirus pandemic” by voting for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Included in the release was a section about cash relief for Americans, including additional unemployment benefits, which will be temporarily raised from $240 per week to $840. 

However, McSally was one of 48 senators who voted for an amendment that opposed this large of an increase; it failed to pass. The proposal would have ensured “that additional unemployment benefits do not result in an individual receiving unemployment compensation that is more than the amount of wages the individual was earning prior to becoming unemployed.” 

The four Republicans who introduced this amendment worried that an extra $600 per week would be more than some people made regularly and that the higher pay would disincentivize them to find work. 

Dave Wells, research director at the nonpartisan Grand Canyon Institute think tank, confirmed that some people will receive more in benefits than they make through their employment. He said prior to the pandemic, Arizonans on unemployment received an average weekly benefit of $235, meaning almost everyone reached the cap of $240.

Wells explains, however, that the increase will only last for a short period. 

“That [increase] will only occur either through the end of July (when the federal supplements end) or when the business reopens/expands back, whichever occurs first,” he said. “They cannot refuse to work and receive benefits once the business re-opens or expands back to former staffing levels.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also opposed the $600 weekly increase, although following the bill’s passage he, too, sent out a press release touting the increased unemployment benefits.

The majority of those who voted for the amendment against the $600 increase were Republican.

More than 129,000 Arizonans applied for unemployment last week, according to the state’s Department of Economic Security, and nearly 89,000 people applied during the prior week. These are dramatic increases from the average 3,500 people who applied per month prior to Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order shutting down bars, gyms, and restaurant dining rooms.