Benefits Lapse For Millions if Trump Fails to Approve Bill

The stalemate comes as the Covid pandemic continues to worsen in many areas, and more U.S. workers are in jeopardy of losing their jobs.

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Trump has taken no action on the stimulus bill that Congress approved, which has been delivered to him at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, beyond expressing his displeasure on Twitter.

The White House declined to comment Saturday on whether Trump will sign the bill by the end of the day, a move that would trigger action by states to update their computer systems to reflect the ongoing benefits. None of Trump’s press secretaries accompanied him to Florida.

The stimulus law is in addition to a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill to fund the federal government, which without Trump’s signature is at risk of closing down early next week.

Trump has demanded that Congress increase stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000 for eligible Americans — an abrupt proposal that blindsided lawmakers after they spent months negotiating the final package, and is opposed by many Republicans. He’s also complained about some of the items in the stimulus plan or in the omnibus spending bill.

“I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill,” Trump tweeted on Saturday.

President-elect Joe Biden criticized Trump on Saturday for refusing to sign the bill. Biden said in a statement that as many as 10 million Americans will lose their unemployment insurance benefits. About 14 million people have been receiving unemployment benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs.

“It is the day after Christmas, and millions of families don’t know if they’ll be able to make ends meet,” Biden said. “This abdication of responsibility has devastating consequences.”

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut said Saturday on Twitter that Trump must “pick up the phone and tell Republicans to stop blocking $2,000 payments.” He added that Trump’s last-minute snag was designed to create “chaos.” Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont said the president should sign the bill, and then ask Republicans for separate legislation on direct payments.

Given the potential lapse in funding, it could take as long as a month before people receive their funds and even longer for the effects to filter into the economy, according to Michael Englund, chief economist at Action Economics LLC.

Beyond the short-term impact, the lack of immediate direct payments and gap in special unemployment benefits threaten to deepen economic scarring marked especially by a jump in long-term unemployment.

Democrats plan to vote Monday on new legislation to codify the $2,000 payments for most American adults and children. They could also vote on another stopgap measure to fund the government past the current spending deadline of midnight that day.

While that would avert a government shutdown if the Senate also passes it and the president signs it, it is still unclear what Trump plans to do with the larger pandemic relief and annual spending bill Congress passed on Dec. 21.

(Updates with Democrats’ tweets from 11th paragraph.)

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