Perched at Mar-a-Lago for the holidays, Donald Trump rage-tweeted more garbage Saturday about having the election stolen from him, but said not a single word about the thousands of Americans dying daily in jam-packed intensive care units at the nation’s hospitals because of the coronavirus. He also tweeted another complaint about getting rid of government “pork” and a too small $600 “stimulus” check that are included in the $2.3 trillion spending bill Congress just passed. The check is part of $892 billion in financial relief for out-of-work Americans, renters and landlords, and businesses hammered by government pandemic restrictions. But Trump, enjoying a weekend of golfing, gave no hint about whether he will sign it.
If he doesn’t, at least 11.9 million Americans will lose their federally enacted emergency unemployment benefits at midnight tonight and not get a stimulus check. Not signing would also mean a government shutdown starting Tuesday. After essentially ignoring weeks of negotiations over the relief package, Trump this week called for a $2,000 check instead of $600, something the Democrats quickly said okay to, but that the Republican-controlled Senate immediately shot down.
With 10.7 million Americans officially out of work, 3.3 million of the unemployed misclassified as employed or not part of the workforce, 5.0 million having left the workforce, and 7.1 million working shorter hours and/or for lower pay, the economic thumbscrews are causing widespread pain. Add to this the expiration of the nationwide eviction moratorium on Dec. 31, with an estimated $34 billion in back rent due, and the nation faces the possibility of millions of the jobless being suddenly homeless as well, many of them without health insurance in the midst of the most lethal pandemic in a century.
The disasters of 2020 already were guaranteed to carry over deep into next year and beyond. This isn’t speculation. Just as many Americans never recovered from the Great Recession, the same can be expected for the Pandemic Recession, with countless people having exhausted their savings, and at least 4 million jobs having been lost permanently. Trump is determined to worsen our circumstances.
He is right that a $600 stimulus check is measly, as is the $300-a-week extra that people collecting unemployment benefits from regular state or two emergency federal programs would receive as part of the relief package. From March through July, eligible Americans received an additional $600 a week with their unemployment benefits, which average $320 a week nationwide. That extra benefit expired July 31. In at least six states, the amount of unemployment benefits without the extra dollars isn’t enough to lift an out-of-work person above the poverty line. But if Trump had truly wanted to ease the economic pain rather than merely tweet about it, he would have been backing a $2,000 survival check back in June or July.
Because of the way the relief legislation is written to extend emergency benefits by 11 weeks, to March 14, 2021, if Trump doesn’t sign the law tonight, but signs the legislation sometimes next week, the jobless will lose $300 of the $3,300 extra they would otherwise receive because the extension of benefits will be cut to 10 weeks as a consequence of Trump’s delay.
Emily Cochrane at The New York Times reports:
The consequences of such a delay are dire, economists, policy experts and lawmakers said, particularly as the country’s economic recovery continues to sputter and the pandemic ravages the country. Some warned that any resolution at this point may be too late for families who will have lost their only lifeline shielding them from the brunt of the pandemic’s economic toll, and will further burden overwhelmed state unemployment agencies waiting for guidance on how to enact the legislation.
“Foreclosures, hunger, homelessness, suicide,” said Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst for the National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit workers’ rights group. “There will be very permanent things that happen to people that can’t be fixed by a check in three weeks.”
President-elect Joe Biden issued a statement Saturday urging Trump to sign the bill:
This abdication of responsibility has devastating consequences. […]
This bill is critical. It needs to be signed into law now. But it is also a first step and down payment on more action that we’ll need to take early in the new year to revive the economy and contain the pandemic — including meeting the dire need for funding to distribute and administer the vaccine and to increase our testing capacity.
The relief package is at least 75% less than it ought to be. Better than nothing, of course. Better late than never. But this low-balling will heighten the pain. As with so much that has occurred under the Trump regime and a decade of Republican obstructionism, this didn’t haven’t to happen.
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