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Millionaires Made Off with $264 Million in Jobless Benefits; Ernst-Tester Bill Would End This Welfare for the Wealthy

WASHINGTON – Nearly 20,000 individuals earning $1 million or more were paid $264 million in unemployment benefits in 2020, according to newly released data from the IRS. This includes more than 200 individuals who were earning $10 million or more. Each of the unemployed millionaires was paid about $13,700, on average, for not working.

A 1964 Department of Labor regulation requires the payment of Unemployment Insurance (UI) compensation to individuals who lose a job, even if they continue to receive other income. In 2020 and 2021, Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) proposed legislation to prohibit anyone earning $1 million or more who lost a job from being eligible for collecting the additional unemployment benefits created during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, Senators Ernst and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) introduced the Ending Unemployment Payments to Jobless Millionaires Act of 2022 that would stop UI compensation to anyone who is earning $1 million or more despite having lost a job.

“As I warned in 2020, essential workers—many of whom were working around the clock while putting their lives at risk—had money taken out of their wallets to line the pockets of millionaires who weren’t working,” said Ernst. “The annual price tag for this reverse-millionaire tax totaled $264 million. The true million-dollar question is: why did Congress continue to pay the rich not to work. With the U.S. national debt now exceeding $31 trillion, ending this welfare for the wealthy is a good place to start trimming Washington’s excesses.”

“Hard-working folks across this country were on the front lines during the COVID pandemic, putting their lives at risk to ensure that our communities had access to the goods and services they needed,” said Tester. “The fact is these folks weren’t eligible for unemployment checks, but unemployed millionaires who were able to stay home, were. That’s not right, and this bill will right that wrong by making sure American taxpayer dollars are not wasted on making the rich richer.”

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Senator Ernst has led the fight to end jobless payments to unemployed millionaires.

In May 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ernst introduced The Returning Inappropriate Cash Handouts, or RICH, Act to stop the payment of new unemployment benefits to out-of-work millionaires. Senator Ernst awarded her May 2020 Squeal Award to the jobless millionaires who took these handouts from hardworking taxpayers.

When the Democrats proposed extending those payments in February 2021, Ernst filed an amendment to disqualify unemployed millionaires from receiving the bonus benefits.  In March 2021, during debate of the American Rescue Plan Act, Ernst spoke on the floor opposing the continuation of the jobless payments to millionaires.