Unemployment benefits for millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet lapsed overnight as US President Donald Trump refused to signed an end-of-year COVID-19 relief and spending bill that had been considered a done deal before his sudden objections.
The fate of the bipartisan package yesterday remained in limbo as Trump continued to demand larger COVID-19 relief checks and complained about “pork” spending. Without the widespread funding provided by the massive measure, a government shutdown would occur when money runs out at 12:01am on Tuesday.
“It’s a chess game and we are pawns,” said Lanetris Haines, a self-employed single mother of three in South Bend, Indiana, who stands to lose her US$129 weekly jobless benefit unless Trump signs the package into law or succeeds in his improbable quest for changes.
Washington has been reeling since Trump turned on the deal after it had won sweeping approval in both houses of the US Congress and after the White House had assured Republican leaders that Trump would support it.
Instead, he assailed the bill’s plan to provide US$600 relief checks to most Americans, insisting it should be US$2,000.
“I simply want to get our great people US$2,000, rather than the measly US$600 that is now in the bill,” Trump tweeted on Saturday from Palm Beach, Florida, where he is spending the holiday. “Also, stop the billions of dollars in ‘pork.’”
US 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.
“It is the day after Christmas, and millions of families don’t know if they’ll be able to make ends meet because of President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign an economic relief bill approved by Congress with an overwhelming and bipartisan majority,” Biden said in a statement.
He accused Trump of an “abdication of responsibility” that has “devastating consequences.”
“I’ve been talking to people who are scared they’re going to be kicked out from their homes, during the Christmas holidays, and still might be if we don’t sign this bill,” said US Representative Debbie Dingell, a Democrat.
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.
Andrew Stettner, an unemployment insurance expert and senior fellow at the Century Foundation think tank, said that the number might be closer to 14 million because joblessness has spiked since Thanksgiving.
How and when people would be affected by the lapse would depend on the state they lived in, the program they were relying on and when they applied for benefits.
However, about 9.5 million people had been relying on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program that expired altogether on 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.
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