President Trump’s decision to wait until Sunday night to sign the latest COVID-19 relief bill will result in delays for millions of Americans relying on unemployment benefits.
The $900 billion bill, passed overwhelmingly by Congress last week, was tied to a $1.4 trillion government funding bill that was needed to prevent the federal government from shutting down. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had given his input during negotiations and praised the bill, but the president released a video in which he fell short of threatening a veto but issued a series of complaints about its contents. He said $600 direct payments — the exact number proposed by Mnuchin — were insufficient and complained about foreign aid payments in the funding bill.
Trump gains little if anything from the delay, issuing requests in his signing that Congress will likely ignore. But 14 million Americans who were relying on expiring provisions in the CARES Act will still see delays in receiving unemployment payments. On Dec. 26, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program expired, resulting in Americans who were self-employed, part-time or gig workers temporarily losing their $300 per week.
The bill also extended the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program, which provided an additional 13 weeks of payments to Americans who’ve been unemployed for longer than the normal state limit of benefits, typically 26 weeks. Because the payments are issued through individual state systems that have been stressed all year by the spike in claims, there could be further delays in the payments going out, meaning those relying on the PUA or PEUC programs could face multiple weeks without income to start the new year.
More than 333,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, while unemployment claims earlier this month rose to their highest levels since September.
A recent report from Columbia University projected that without the expanded unemployment benefits being renewed, 4.8 million would be set to fall into poverty, showing the precarious position faced by many. Michele Evermore, a senior researcher and policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, told Yahoo News that the legislation was written in a way that could result in Americans being paid for the missed week despite Trump’s delay.
“There is language in the bill about contracts,” Evermore told Yahoo News. “States already have contracts in place to administer all of these things, so if somehow the dates are just changed on those contracts, maybe this week will get paid for.
“There will, though, definitely be a delay in implementation because states have to figure this out and program that into their computers, and that will be difficult,” Evermore added. “That will mean people may not get payments for a few weeks. But when they do, they should get back pay.”
Trump’s refusal to sign until Sunday night also meant that the extra $300 per week in expanded unemployment insurance from the federal government won’t go out for another week, at minimum. The CARES Act initially provided $600 per week, but those payments ended in late July, and one study found that poverty rates in the country spiked in the ensuing months.
Other programs in the legislation — including funding for nutrition programs, schools, small businesses, vaccine distribution and mass transit systems — also have had their implementation delayed by the president’s weekend of golfing and tweeting election-related conspiracy theories.
However, by signing the bill on Dec. 27, Trump did aid the millions of Americans who were facing the loss of their homes. A federal eviction moratorium protecting renters from losing their homes due to nonpayment was set to expire at the end of the year but has been extended through Jan. 31 with the new legislation, allowing President-elect Joe Biden time to extend it further via executive order after his inauguration on Jan. 20. When the moratoriums eventually expire, Americans will still face billions of dollars in back rent payments.
Last week Trump also vetoed a defense funding bill over his opposition to the renaming of bases honoring Confederate officers and his request for the repeal of Section 230, a liability protection for tech companies. Congress is set to return this week and is expected to override the veto.
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