US unemployment aid to lapse; relief bill on hold

Unemployment aid set to lapse as Trump’s plan for relief bill remains unclear

States cannot pay out benefits for weeks that begin before the bill is signed

President Donald Trump expressed more criticism Friday of a $900 billion pandemic relief bill that was awaiting his signature. Credit: Reuters Photo

A day before expanded unemployment benefits were set to lapse for millions of struggling Americans, President Donald Trump expressed more criticism Friday of a $900 billion pandemic relief bill that was awaiting his signature and would extend them.

The sprawling economic relief package that Congress passed with overwhelming bipartisan support would extend the amount of time that people can collect unemployment benefits until March and revive supplemental unemployment benefits for millions of Americans at $300 a week on top of the usual state benefit.

If Trump signs the bill Friday evening or sometime Saturday, states will still need time to reprogram their computer systems to account for the new law, according to Michele Evermore of the National Employment Law Project, but unemployed workers would still be able to claim the benefits.

Further delays could prove more costly. States cannot pay out benefits for weeks that begin before the bill is signed, meaning that if the president does not sign the bill by Saturday, benefits will not restart until the first week of January. But they will still end in mid-March, effectively trimming the extension to 10 weeks from 11.

Also read: Donald Trump threatens to reject Covid-19 bill, wants bigger stimulus cheques

Trump blindsided lawmakers Tuesday when he hinted he may veto the measure, which he decided at the last minute was unsatisfactory. The most pressing issue prompted by the president’s delay was the fate of unemployment benefits. At least a temporary lapse in those benefits is now inevitable.

The country is also facing a looming government shutdown Tuesday and the expiration of a moratorium on evictions at the end of the year because of the president’s refusal to sign the bill.

White House officials had the 5,000-page legislation flown to Mar-a-Lago, his club in Palm Beach, Florida, on Christmas Eve. He spent Christmas Day playing golf and, he said, making many calls.

Trump was largely uninvolved with the negotiations over the legislation, but his Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, was thought to be negotiating on the president’s behalf.

The aid bill was passed along with a spending measure to keep the government funded for the remainder of the fiscal year.