Update 12/30: The U.S. Labor Department said Tuesday that millions of jobless Americans likely won’t lose a week’s worth of unemployment benefits after all, although it's still not clear how long individual states will take to get the payments out. Read more here.
President Trump just created a multibillion-dollar debacle. And he got zilch in exchange.
Trump’s decision to delay signing the $900 billion pandemic aid package could end up costing millions of American workers billions in lost or delayed benefits, since the five-day lag allowed extended pandemic unemployment aid to lapse, risking an entire week’s worth of assistance for many.
And because Trump eventually just signed the bill, he got nothing in return for the damage he decided to inflict on America over Christmas.
“In every state but New York, it looks likely that the president’s failure to sign the new law in a timely manner will lead to the loss of a full week of emergency unemployment assistance,” said Indivar Dutta-Gupta, co-executive director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, who added Trump’s delay will also affect the $300-a-week supplemental jobless benefit approved by Congress.
Trump’s delay may cost American workers $9 billion to $10 billion in some form of unemployment insurance, according to former U.S. Treasury economist Ernie Tedeschi.
The costly, pointless political stunt reflects the churning chaos of the Trump administration in the twilight of his presidency, as well as Trump’s growing disconnect with congressional Republicans.
Over the past few weeks, the president has been obsessed with attempting to overturn the 2020 election by spreading conspiracy theories and baselessly arguing that victory was stolen from him. He’s also been disengaged from the frantic negotiations on Capitol Hill to save Americans from the worst of the pandemic’s economic fallout.
Last week, Trump shocked Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike by waiting until the two sides had finally forged a stimulus deal and then criticizing the legislation in a video posted online Tuesday. In it, Trump demanded that the $600 direct stimulus checks be increased to $2,000. Democrats replied that $2,000 checks would be fine with them. But Republicans wouldn’t budge.
Then, after five days of bluster and brinkmanship, Trump simply caved and signed the deal, with nothing to show for his efforts except a massive, costly delay.
“To be clear, one can breathe some sigh of relief that 10 weeks of benefits are on their way for workers who have suffered because of the pandemic and the policy response to the pandemic,” Dutta-Gupta said. “But there’s no doubt that there’s going to be serious hardship just because the president, with no upside whatsoever, signed a bill on Sunday instead of Saturday.”
Some 14 million Americans rely on two unemployment programs that were allowed to lapse Dec. 26 due to the delayed response from the White House. Although the pandemic unemployment programs have been extended under the new legislation, those workers could be out of luck when it comes to receiving their benefits for this week.
There’s a chance that the impact of Trump’s bungling may be mitigated, however.
There’s language in the bill Trump signed Sunday that says the $300-a-week supplement begins whenever states entered into an agreement to distribute the aid, according to Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project. That kind of agreement took place in April, when states prepared to dole out the then-$600-a-week boost at the behest of Congress.
“If they’re clever, they could possibly just amend their agreement with the Employment and Training Administration and then not lose out on that week,” Evermore said.
In effect, the chaos caused by Trump’s inaction may make the $600 stimulus check a replacement—rather than a much-needed supplement—to the income that jobless Americans could lose in the last week of the year.
“Trump got taken to the cleaners,” Politico’s Playbook newsletter concluded Monday. “What a bizarre, embarrassing episode for the president. He opposed a bill his administration negotiated. He had no discernible strategy and no hand to play—and it showed. He folded, and got nothing besides a few days of attention and chaos. People waiting for aid got a few days of frightening uncertainty.”