In a webinar hosted by the Tulsa Regional Chamber on Monday, U.S. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said he fears that the amount of money paid out to Americans as federal unemployment benefits under new coronavirus legislation may be overly generous and bad economic policy.
"That's been the challenge of unemployment during this time period," Lankford said. "That we have a disincentive to get back to work."
Lankford said he and his fellow Senate Republicans negotiated with the Democratic caucus to lower the amount of weekly unemployment benefits out-of-work Americans would be eligible to receive from $1,000 down to $600.
"There were a lot of complaints even at $600 a week because we knew that would exceed what a lot of people's normal average income was for those months, and [it would] be very difficult to get people to come back to work," Lankford said.
Lankford also said the Republican caucus was able to negotiate a shorter duration for the payments. He said Democrats wanted Americans to receive benefits through the end of this calendar year, but Republicans fought to win a date of July 31st in the final legislation, which passed by voice vote on Tuesday.
Lankford also said Americans shouldn't expect other federal coronavirus benefits to make up entire losses suffered due to the pandemic.
"The goal of the CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] Act was never to make businesses and families whole," Lankford said. "It was to get us through this."
"There are some that are saying, 'Hey, not all of my expenses have been paid through the CARES Act,'" Lankford said. "I'm aware of that. That was never the goal."
Asked how long he expects about $300 billion in new loans made available by the federal Small Business Administration on Monday morning to last, Lankford said it was unclear.
"No one really knows," he said. "I would expect it would last 10 days. That's my guess."
Regarding Governor Stitt's plan to reopen Oklahoma that began last week, Lankford said the White House had delegated responsibility to governors to make decisions independently, but that cooperation between states is still important.
"The national media that's focused on New York City, they're going to say the whole country needs to stay down until New York City is caught up. We're going to look at it and say no, we can't do that," Lankford said. "Louisiana is going to handle it different than Arkansas and Oklahoma are, is going to handle it different from Texas. Regionally is the way to go."
Earlier this month, Lankford and Sen. Jim Inhofe were both selected to serve on President Trump's "Task Force on Economic Recovery." In March, Lankford and Inhofe were two of only eight senators to vote against the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, saying its requirements for businesses to provide family leave and sick leave during the pandemic were too costly for employers. That bill passed 90-8 and was signed into law by the president.