Unemployment benefits expire for millions

Coronavirus stimulus

FILE – (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (NewsNation Now) — Unemployment benefits for millions of Americans lapsed overnight after President Donald Trump did not sign an end-of-year COVID-19 relief and spending bill.

The fate of the bipartisan package remained in limbo Sunday as Trump continued to demand larger COVID-19 relief checks and said the bill had too much “pork” spending. Without the widespread funding provided by the measure, a government shutdown would occur when money runs out at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

Congress had passed a $900 billion pandemic relief package Monday night.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump called on Congress to amend the bill, saying he wants $600 stimulus checks to be increased to $2,000. House Republicans swiftly rejected that idea during a rare Christmas Eve 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 from Palm Beach, Florida, where he is spending the holiday. “Also, stop the billions of dollars in ‘pork.’”

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President-elect Joe Biden called on Trump to sign the bill immediately as the midnight Saturday deadline neared for two federal programs providing unemployment aid.

“It is the day after Christmas, and millions of families don’t know if they’ll be able to make ends meet because of President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign an economic relief bill approved by Congress with an overwhelming and bipartisan majority,” Biden said in a statement. He accused Trump of an “abdication of responsibility” that has “devastating consequences.”

Lauren Bauer, a fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, has calculated that 11 million people would lose aid from the programs immediately without additional relief; millions more would exhaust other unemployment benefits within weeks.

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 would be affected by the lapse depended on the state they lived in, the program they were relying on and when they applied for benefits. In some states, people on regular unemployment insurance would continue to receive payments under a program that extends benefits when the jobless rate surpassed a certain threshold, Stettner said.

About 9.5 million people, however, had been relying on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program that expired altogether Saturday. That program made unemployment insurance available to freelancers, gig workers and others who were normally not eligible. After receiving their last checks, those recipients would not be able to file for more aid, Stettner said.

While payments could be received retroactively, any gap would mean more hardship and uncertainty for Americans who had already grappled with bureaucratic delays, often depleting much of their savings to stay afloat while waiting for payments to kick in.

The bill, which was in Florida awaiting Trump’s signature, would also activate a weekly $300 federal supplement to unemployment payments.

In addition to the unemployment benefits that have already lapsed, Trump’s continued refusal to sign the bill would lead to the expiration of eviction protections and put on hold a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants and theaters, as well as money for cash-starved transit systems and for vaccine distribution.

The relief was also attached to a $1.4 trillion government funding bill to keep the federal government operating through September, which would mean that failing to sign it by midnight Tuesday would trigger a federal shutdown.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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