Will the increased benefits discourage people from working?

Nope! This has been a common talking point, but there are some serious logical flaws with it. (Not least of which is that there’s evidence that people who receive UI are more likely to look for work.)

First, a person cannot collect unemployment if they quit their job. Regardless of how it pays compared to their usual wages, to receive unemployment benefits a worker must produce a valid reason — i.e. layoffs, furloughs, significant hour cuts, or business closure — for why they were forced to stop working.

Second, during the COVID-19 crisis, a worker can refuse to go to work and still collect unemployment through PUA, but only if they can prove their need to stay home is due to COVID-19 and is on the CARES Act’s list of eligible reasons. At a time when we need fewer people congregating in public spaces like offices, it’s better to make sure people can afford to stay home until the pandemic is over rather than forcing people back to work too soon and spreading the virus more.

Third, these benefits end as soon as a workplace is deemed safe to reopen or essential (even if the workers disagree with that designation). At that time, if a worker’s bosses decide to call them back into work (even if they were laid off), workers who refuse to return will lose their unemployment benefits, unless they qualify under the CARES Act’s list of eligible reasons. That’s true even if workers have real reason to fear contracting COVD-19 from the job, like in meat processing plants.

More generally speaking, most of the people receiving unemployment benefits during a recession are doing so because there are no jobs available. People who are receiving unemployment benefits also typically receive better job offers compared to those who have used up their benefits, who are quicker to settle for a lower-paying job than the one they lost.