How Trump Has Jeopardized Stimulus Relief

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Tuesday unexpectedly threatened to reject a far-reaching, catchall spending package that includes $900 billion in coronavirus relief and funding for the government through Sept. 30. The threat in effect dropped a depth charge on the Republican Party, but beyond politics, the coming days will determine whether his actions actually deny or delay relief to struggling Americans and shut down the government.

What happened?

To guarantee smooth passage for both the pandemic relief package and the $1.4 trillion in funding to keep the government operating, congressional leaders and top White House officials agreed to combine all of the legislation in one behemoth package.

The end product, nearly 5,600 pages, includes a dozen must-pass funding bills and an array of bipartisan legislative priorities that are routinely attached to what is typically the last substantive legislative act of the calendar year.

But in a video posted online on Tuesday, Mr. Trump conflated the $900 billion relief package with the routine funding portion running along side it, declaring that the coronavirus rescue bill had been larded with provisions that had nothing to do with the pandemic, like foreign aid and federal fish hatcheries. Many of the items he objected to came straight from his own budget proposal.

So what happens to the stimulus aid — and its benefits?

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, told Americans on Monday that they could receive the $600 direct payments included in the coronavirus relief legislation as early as next week. The bill also would ensure that two federal unemployment programs set to expire after this week are extended.

But the bill’s size means it could take several days for the Government Publishing Office to physically print the bill, have it signed by congressional officials, then bring it to the White House, a process called enrollment. With that process not expected to be finished until Thursday or Friday, some state labor departments — which administer both federal and state unemployment benefits — have already begun to prepare for the programs’ end, meaning that several million jobless workers will still see a lapse in payments after Christmas.

Mr. Trump’s indication that he will not sign the legislation without changes, including more than tripling the size of the direct payments to individuals, from $600 to $2,000, could further delay both the distribution of any payments and the amount of time it takes for jobless workers to begin seeing their payments again. (The legislation, if signed, does ensure workers will receive back payments for the time missed.)

What is the next step?

Top congressional Democrats, who have been fielding criticism for dropping their demands for a multi-trillion dollar relief package and accepting the $900 billion version worked out with the Senate, have happily called Mr. Trump’s bluff.

The House is set to convene on Thursday, Christmas Eve, in a so-called pro forma session, typically a brief meeting that requires one lawmaker be present and lasts for just a few minutes. In that session, House Democrats plan to bring up a stand-alone bill that would provide for $2,000 direct payments for American families.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, in a letter to Democrats, challenged Republicans to block the measures and said top Democrats were waiting to hear from Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, to see if there would be an objection from a House Republican. Any lawmaker willing to return to Washington in person can block the bill from moving forward by denying unanimous consent.

Democrats had included $1,200 direct payments — the original amount approved in March’s $2.2 trillion stimulus law — in their opening offers for another relief package. Within minutes of Mr. Trump’s public opposition to the bill, Ms. Pelosi declared her agreement with the president’s call for $2,000 checks, as did Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, and some of Congress’s most liberal members.

“We need to send a clean bill with just $2,000 survival checks and a separate spending/covid relief bill,” Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota and a frequent target of Mr. Trump’s ire, wrote Tuesday evening on Twitter, adding, “since Trump wants to sign a bill with survival checks, let’s send one to his desk right away.”

Latest Updates

If Democrats in the House pass the bill to increase the direct payments, it moves to the Senate. But it is unclear whether Senate Republicans would take up the measure, given widespread concerns within the Republican conference about the cost of such a provision.

By when does the president need to sign something?

Millions of Americans were enrolled in two unemployment programs in early December, according to the Labor Department. Both programs are set to expire on Saturday. That could push nearly 5 million people into poverty virtually over night, according to an estimate from researchers at Columbia University.

The Second Stimulus

Answers to Your Questions About the Stimulus Bill

Updated Dec 23, 2020

Lawmakers agreed to a plan to issue stimulus payments of $600 and distribute a federal unemployment benefit of $300 for 11 weeks. You can find more about the bill and what’s in it for you here.

    • Will I receive another stimulus payment? Individual adults with adjusted gross income on their 2019 tax returns of up to $75,000 a year would receive a $600 payment, and heads of households making up to $112,500 and a couple (or someone whose spouse died in 2020) earning up to $150,000 a year would get twice that amount. If they have dependent children, they would also get $600 for each child. People with incomes just above these levels would receive a partial payment that declines by $5 for every $100 in income.
    • When might my payment arrive? Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC that he expected the first payments to go out before the end of the year. But it will be a while before all eligible people receive their money.
    • Does the agreement affect unemployment insurance? Lawmakers agreed to extend the amount of time that people can collect unemployment benefits and restart an extra federal benefit that is provided on top of the usual state benefit. But instead of $600 a week, it would be $300. That would last through March 14.
    • I am behind on my rent or expect to be soon. Will I receive any relief? The agreement would provide $25 billion to be distributed through state and local governments to help renters who have fallen behind. To receive assistance, households would have to meet several conditions: Household income (for 2020) cannot exceed more than 80 percent of the area median income; at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability; and individuals must qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship — directly or indirectly — because of the pandemic. The agreement said assistance would be prioritized for families with lower incomes and that have been unemployed for three months or more.

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