Advertisement

Unemployment benefits for millions expire as Trump refuses to sign COVID-19 relief bill

Click to play video 'Trump plays golf as COVID-19 relief bill hangs in limbo' Trump plays golf as COVID-19 relief bill hangs in limbo
WATCH: Trump plays golf as COVID-19 relief bill hangs in limbo – Dec 27, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — U.S. President Donald Trump appeared no closer to signing an end-of-year COVID relief and spending bill Sunday as unemployment aid expired, the government barrels toward a mid-pandemic shutdown and lawmakers implored him to break the impasse he created after Congress approved the deal.

The fate of the bipartisan package remained in limbo after Trump blindsided members of both parties with a demand for larger COVID relief checks and complained about “pork” spending, even as help for millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet lapsed overnight. The federal government will run out of money at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday if Trump refuses to sign the bill as he spends the holidays in Florida.

In the face of economic hardship and spreading disease, several lawmakers urged Trump to sign the legislation immediately, then have Congress follow up with more relief.

Story continues below advertisement

Read more: Republican leaders seek restrictions to American voters despite smooth U.S. election

“What the president is doing right now is unbelievably cruel,” Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said Sunday. “So many people are hurting.”

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania also said Trump should sign the bill, then make the case for more. “We’ve got a bill right now that his administration helped negotiate,” he said. “I think we ought to get that done.”

That point was echoed by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who’s criticized Trump’s pandemic response and his efforts to undo the election results. “I just gave up guessing what he might do next,” he said. Hogan and Sanders spoke on ABC’s “This Week,” Toomey on “Fox News Sunday.”

In South Bend, Indiana, Lanetris Haines, a self-employed single mother of three, stood to lose her US$129 weekly jobless benefit unless Trump signed the package into law or succeeded in his improbable quest for changes.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Trump demands changes to $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill' Coronavirus: Trump demands changes to $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill
Coronavirus: Trump demands changes to $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill – Dec 23, 2020

“It’s a chess game and we are pawns,” she said.

Story continues below advertisement

Trump was spending Sunday golfing at his West Palm Beach course.

He has given no indication he plans to sign the bill as he spends the last days of his presidency in a rage. Indeed, his dissatisfaction with the legislation seems only to have grown in recent days as he has criticized it both privately to club members and publicly on Twitter.

“I simply want to get our great people US$2000, rather than the measly US$600 that is now in the bill,” he tweeted Saturday. “Also, stop the billions of dollars in ‘pork.’”

Washington has been reeling since Trump turned on the deal, without warning, after it had won sweeping approval in both houses of Congress and after the White House had assured Republican leaders that Trump would support it.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: U.S. sets new single-day record for COVID-19 deaths' Coronavirus: U.S. sets new single-day record for COVID-19 deaths
Coronavirus: U.S. sets new single-day record for COVID-19 deaths – Dec 24, 2020

Instead, he assailed the bill’s plan to provide US$600 COVID relief checks to most Americans — insisting it should be US$2,000. House Republicans swiftly rejected that idea during a rare Christmas Eve session. But Trump has not been swayed in spite of the nation being in the grip of a pandemic.

Story continues below advertisement

As the impasse dragged on, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health warned that the country is at a “critical point” in COVID-19 infections, with the Christmas and New Year’s holidays posing the threat of a “surge upon a surge” as people congregate with families and others, against the advice of public-health officials.

Read more: Trump plays golf on Christmas Eve as coronavirus relief bill up in the air

“As we get into the next few weeks, it might actually get worse,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

President-elect Joe Biden called on Trump to sign the bill immediately as the midnight Saturday deadline neared for two federal programs providing unemployment aid. He accused Trump of an “abdication of responsibility” that has “devastating consequences.”

Click to play video 'COVID-19 unemployment benefits expire as Trump stalls aid bill' COVID-19 unemployment benefits expire as Trump stalls aid bill
COVID-19 unemployment benefits expire as Trump stalls aid bill – Dec 26, 2020

How and when people are affected by the lapse depends on the state they live in, the program they are relying on and when they applied for benefits. In some states, people on regular unemployment insurance could continue to receive payments under a program that extends benefits when the jobless rate surpasses a certain threshold, Stettner said.

Story continues below advertisement

The impact is already beginning. Lauren Bauer, a fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, has calculated that 11 million people would lose aid from the programs immediately without additional relief; millions more would exhaust other unemployment benefits within weeks.

 

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Trump demands U.S. Congress amend COVID-19 stimulus bill' Coronavirus: Trump demands U.S. Congress amend COVID-19 stimulus bill
Coronavirus: Trump demands U.S. Congress amend COVID-19 stimulus bill – Dec 22, 2020

Andrew Stettner, an unemployment insurance expert and senior fellow at the Century Foundation think tank, said the number may be closer to 14 million because joblessness has spiked since Thanksgiving.

How and when people would be affected by the lapse depended on the state they lived in, the program they were relying on and when they applied for benefits. In some states, people on regular unemployment insurance would continue to receive payments under a program that extends benefits when the jobless rate surpassed a certain threshold, Stettner said.

Story continues below advertisement

About 9.5 million people, however, had been relying on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program that expired altogether Saturday. That program made unemployment insurance available to freelancers, gig workers and others who were normally not eligible. After receiving their last checks, those recipients would not be able to file for more aid, Stettner said.

While payments could be received retroactively, any gap would mean more hardship and uncertainty for Americans who had already grappled with bureaucratic delays, often depleting much of their savings to stay afloat while waiting for payments to kick in.

Read more: Trump tests GOP loyalty by threatening long-awaited coronavirus relief bill

They were people like Earl McCarthy, a father of four who lives in South Fulton, Georgia, and had been relying on unemployment since losing his job as a sales representative for a luxury senior living community. He said he would be left with no income by the second week of January if Trump refused to sign the bill.

McCarthy said he already burned through much of his savings as he waited five months to begin receiving about US$350 a week in unemployment benefits.

“The entire experience was horrifying,” said McCarthy. “I shudder to think if I had not saved anything or had an emergency fund through those five months, where would we have been?”

Story continues below advertisement

He added, “It’s going to be difficult if the president doesn’t sign this bill.”

Click to play video 'Trump keeps pedalling doubts about election results' Trump keeps pedalling doubts about election results
Trump keeps pedalling doubts about election results – Dec 22, 2020

The bill would also activate a weekly US$300 federal supplement to unemployment payments. In addition to the unemployment benefits that have already lapsed, Trump’s continued refusal to sign the bill would lead to the expiration of eviction protections and put on hold a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants and theaters, as well as money for cash-starved transit systems and for vaccine distribution.

Sharon Shelton Corpening had been hoping the extra help would allow her 83-year-old mother, with whom she lives, to stop eating into her Social Security payments to make their US$1,138 rent.

Corpening, who lives in the Atlanta area, had launched a freelance content strategy business that was just taking off before the pandemic hit, prompting several of her contracts to fall through. She was receiving about US$125 a week under the pandemic unemployment program and says she would be unable to pay her bills in about a month. This, despite her temporary work for the U.S. census and as an elections poll worker.

Story continues below advertisement

“On the brink,” Corpening, who lobbies for Unemployment Action, a project launched by the Center for Popular Democracy to fight for relief, said of her predicament. “One more month, if that. Then, I run out of everything.”

In addition to the unemployment benefits that have already lapsed, Trump’s continued refusal to sign the bill would lead to the expiration of eviction protections and put on hold a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants and theaters, as well as money for cash-starved transit systems and for vaccine distribution.

The relief was also attached to a US$1.4 trillion government funding bill to keep the federal government operating through September, which would mean that failing to sign it by Tuesday would trigger a federal shutdown.

Story continues below advertisement

___

Olson reported from New York.