Millions of jobless gig-workers and independent contractors, as well as long-term unemployed Americans, are set to lose their unemployment benefits after this weekend since President Donald Trump hasn’t signed the $900 billion relief package Congress passed last week.
What’s more, all laid-off workers will likely lose a week of the $300 federal boost to payments because the President didn’t put his signature on the bill by midnight Saturday.
The Covid-19 relief legislation, which had arrived at Mar-a-Lago by Friday to await Trump’s signature, would extend the number of weeks people can stay on two key pandemic unemployment programs and increase weekly benefits by $300 for all through mid-March.
But after sitting on the sidelines during the negotiations, Trump emerged with an eleventh-hour complaint that a separate provision in the deal, which the President’s own White House helped broker, would only provide up to $600 in direct payments. Trump now wants to send out $2,000 checks.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seized on Trump’s call for $2,000 checks and brought to the floor a standalone bill that would have boosted the amount for relief checks on Thursday. House Republicans, however, objected to the bill over deficit concerns.
The standoff comes as millions of Americans face financial hardship – including difficulty affording food and shelter – triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
Unemployment benefits running out
An estimated 12 million-plus laid-off Americans were set to receive their final unemployment payment for the week ending this weekend, according to The Century Foundation.
Those affected are part of the historic expansion of the nation’s unemployment system that Congress enacted as part of the $2 trillion CARES Act in late March.
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program allows independent contractors, the self-employed, freelancers and gig workers to qualify for payments. It also opens up the program to those who can’t work because of the pandemic, including if they or family members are ill or quarantining or if their children’s schools are closed.
And the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program provides an additional 13 weeks of federally paid benefits to those who run out of state payments, which typically last 26 weeks. The programs technically expire on December 31.
The third CARES Act measure – an extra $600 a week in federal payments – expired at the end of July.
The new relief package expands the two pandemic programs for up to 11 weeks. Each would close to new applicants on March 14, but continue through April 5 for existing claimants who have not yet reached the maximum of 50 weeks.
Even if Trump signed the latest relief package Saturday, the jobless would likely still suffer a break in payments of several weeks while state agencies reprogrammed the package’s provisions into their computers. But the benefits would be retroactive to the end of December.
However, states can’t provide payments for weeks that start before the bill is signed. Since Trump didn’t act Saturday, those in these two programs would not receive benefits for the final week of the year, though they would likely still get the full 11-week extension, said Michele Evermore, senior policy analyst for the National Employment Law Project.
But the $300 weekly boost for all unemployed Americans only runs through March 14, so it will likely be cut short by at least a week.
Renters at risk, too
There are more problems on the horizon if Trump continues to let the legislation sit on his desk.
A US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order halting some evictions is set to expire at the end of the year. Since the order does not cancel or freeze rent, all of a tenant’s back rent will be due January 1 if the moratorium is allowed to expire. Without rent relief or an extension of the protection, many struggling renters will again face eviction.
An estimated 9.2 million renters who have lost employment income during the pandemic are behind on rent, or 23% of such renters, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The relief package would extend the eviction protection to January 31 and provide $25 billion in rental assistance for those who lost their sources of income during the pandemic.
This story has been updated Sunday with additional developments.