Without Trump signature, unemployment relief lapses for millions

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Expanded unemployment benefits have lapsed for millions of Americans because President Trump hasn’t signed a bipartisan $900 billion coronavirus relief package sent to his desk this week. The legislation would add $300 per week in federally-funded unemployment payments to normal state payments, extend emergency unemployment for all workers (PUEC), and extend special unemployment benefits (PUA) for self-employed or gig workers who don’t normally qualify.

Trump could still sign the bill containing the relief measures. But even if he does so, PUA and PUEC payments to about 13 million Americans will be halted for at least one week. Direct relief payments of $600 that could have reached a much larger number of Americans as soon as next week have also been, at best, delayed.

Trump, who is at his Florida home for the holidays, and reportedly golfing, upended a bipartisan deal for the extended unemployment benefits and relief payments on Dec. 22, when he slammed the bill as a “disgrace.”

This morning on Twitter, Trump reiterated his core dispute with the bill, writing: “I simply want to get our great people $2,000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill. Also, stop the billions of dollars in ‘pork’”.

However, the stimulus did not seem to weigh as heavily on the President’s mind as other matters – just before his statement about the payments, he sent a half dozen Tweets repeating debunked claims of fraud in the Presidential election that he lost on Nov. 3.

Trump’s criticisms came despite participation of his representative, Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin, in the months-long negotiations that shaped the bill. Mnuchin as recently as Monday said Americans would get money from the bill “at the beginning of next week.” That possibility now appears dead.

Expanded unemployment benefits and relief payments may still be reinstated if Trump signs the bill in the coming days, or if Congress reconvenes to craft a new version that meets the President’s approval. But states cannot issue payments for weeks that begin before the bill is signed, extended PUA and PUEC benefits will not be paid for the week of Dec. 27-Jan. 2. This would effectively shorten the bill’s PUA extension from 11 to 10 weeks.

The bill waiting Trump’s signature also extends a moratorium on evictions. Without it, economists and housing experts have predicted millions of Americans could be evicted in coming weeks.

Trump’s refusal to sign the bill also raises the specter of a federal government shutdown as soon as Dec. 29, because the relief measures are bundled with a broader government funding package. A shutdown would mean no paychecks for about two million federal employees.

Though those employees would be guaranteed back pay after any shutdown is resolved, their missing paychecks could compound risks to the broader economy posed by the lapse in relief. An economic recovery that began over the summer has slowed, and new jobless claims rose slightly in recent weeks.

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