Unemployment benefits for millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet were set to lapse at midnight Saturday night unless President Donald Trump signed an end-of-year COVID relief and spending bill that had been considered a done deal before his sudden objections.
Trump’s refusal to sign the bipartisan package as he demands larger COVID relief checks and complains about spending could also force a federal government shutdown when money runs out at 12:01 Tuesday in the middle of a pandemic.
Washington has been reeling since Trump threw the package into limbo after it had already won sweeping approval in both houses of Congress and after the White House assured Republican leaders that Trump would support it.
Instead, he has assailed the bill’s plan to provide $600 COVID relief checks to most Americans — insisting it should be $2,000. House Republicans swiftly rejected that idea during a rare weekend session. But Trump has not been swayed.
“I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill,” Trump tweeted Saturday.
President-elect Joe Biden called on Trump to sign the bill immediately as two federal programs providing unemployment aid were set to expire Saturday.
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 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.
About 9.5 million people, however, rely on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program that expires altogether Saturday. That program made unemployment insurance available to freelancers, gig workers and others who are normally not eligible. After receiving their last checks, those recipients will not be able to file for more aid starting Monday, Stettner said.
While payments could be received retroactively, any gap means more hardship and uncertainty for Americans who have already grappled with bureaucratic delays, often depleting much of their savings to stay afloat while waiting for payments to kick in.
With reporting from the Associated Press