Benefits lapse for millions as Trump fails to approve stimulus bill

Millions of Americans will see their unemployment benefits lapse, at least temporarily, after President Donald Trump let Saturday night pass without signing a $900 billion bipartisan coronavirus stimulus package.

The federal government could shut down on Tuesday absent Trump’s signature on the attached, $1.4 trillion spending bill to fund operations through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

As Trump headed to the golf course on Sunday morning, Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey said the president risked a legacy of “chaos and misery and erratic behavior if he allows this to expire.”

Trump has dug in over the size of direct checks to be sent to many Americans, yet the stimulus accord contains numerous other measures designed to offset the impact of the covid-19 pandemic, including extended unemployment benefits, funding for food banks, rental assistance, support for small businesses and for covid vaccination programs, and other items.

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

Trump took no action on the stimulus bill that Congress approved, and his administration helped to negotiate, beyond expressing his displeasure with a series of tweets up to and beyond midnight on Saturday. The massive legislation was flown to him at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where he’s spending the holidays.

Signing the bill as late as Saturday would have triggered action by states to update their computer systems to reflect the ongoing benefits.

Trump has demanded that Congress increase stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000 for eligible Americans – an abrupt proposal that blindsided lawmakers who 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 Sen. 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.”

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.

Any delay in 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.

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