Jobless Benefits Are Set to Expire as Trump Resists Signing Relief Bill

WASHINGTON — Two critical federal unemployment programs were set to expire after Saturday as President Trump resisted signing a sweeping $900 billion aid package into law until lawmakers more than tripled the size of relief checks, putting the fate of the measure in limbo.

Mr. Trump’s resistance to signing the bill risks leaving millions of unemployed Americans without crucial benefits, jeopardizes other critical assistance for businesses and families set to lapse at the end of the year, and raises the possibility of a government shutdown on Tuesday.

The president blindsided lawmakers this week when he described as “a disgrace” a relief compromise that overwhelmingly passed both chambers and was negotiated by his own Treasury secretary. He hinted he might veto the measure unless lawmakers raised the bill’s $600 direct payment checks to $2,000, and Mr. Trump, who was largely absent from negotiations over the compromise, doubled down on that criticism on Saturday while offering little clarity on his plans. A White House spokesman declined to indicate what the president intended to do.

“I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter Saturday morning, dedicating many of his posts to falsehoods about the election by the evening. “Also, stop the billions of dollars in ‘pork.’”

If the president does not sign the $2.3 trillion spending package, which includes the $900 billion in pandemic aid as well as funding to keep the government open past Monday, two federal jobless programs established to expand and extend benefits will lapse after Saturday, meaning millions of unemployed workers will lose them.

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.”

If the president does not sign the bill by Saturday but the legislation becomes law before the end of the 116th Congress on Jan. 3, the delay will have guaranteed a temporary lapse in unemployment benefits because states will not be allowed to restart benefits until the first week of January. The delay has also effectively reduced the scope of the extension and expansions approved in the relief bill because they are still slated to end in mid-March. A provision in the bill adding $300 a week to unemployment benefits would now last for 10 weeks, instead of the intended 11.

“That’s a significant amount of uncertainty for the tens of thousands of residents throughout the state that have been dependent on all this,” said Max Reiss, a spokesman for Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut. “They’re basically being told, you’re going to have to wait a little longer. But what they’re waiting for, we basically don’t know. And that is an unfair position to put people in when we were so close to the finish line days ago.”

“I’m not sure we have a choice but to look to the new administration,” he added. “But at that point, we’re almost a month from where we are now and that would mean a lot of suffering for residents who are waiting for support.”

Citing the looming expiration in unemployment benefits, top Democrats, including President-elect Joseph R. Biden, slammed the delay.

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“This abdication of responsibility has devastating consequences,” he said in a statement on Saturday.

The unsigned 5,593-page bill is now waiting at Mar-a-Lago, the Florida estate where Mr. Trump is spending the holidays. In addition to providing direct payments and reviving lapsed benefits, the legislation would allocate billions of dollars for the distribution of vaccines and to support struggling small businesses, schools, hospitals, airlines and transit agencies across the country.

After spending time with Mr. Trump on Christmas Day, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, offered support for the president’s push for larger direct payments in the spending legislation and his veto of a military policy bill this week because it did not repeal a legal shield for social media companies. Mr. Trump has cited the absence of a repeal as one reason for his veto, which lawmakers in both parties have said should not be addressed in such a bill.

“Both are reasonable demands, and I hope Congress is listening,” Mr. Graham said on Friday.

Before Mr. Trump’s insistence that the legislation increase relief checks to Americans, Mr. Mnuchin had promised direct payments could be sent as early as next week — a timeline that is also now in jeopardy.

But many of those receiving the jobless benefits were worried about losing them so abruptly and what that would mean for their finances in the new year.

Hicham Oumlil, a self-employed fashion designer in Brooklyn, said that he and his wife, a furloughed interior designer, are both set to lose nearly $600 a week, leaving the couple and their 7-year-old son without a source of income. Having paid less than half of his rent each month for the last three months, Mr. Oumlil, 48, said he feared falling deeper into debt if the relief bill did not become law.

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.