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Protesters rally demanding economic relief during the coronavirus pandemic, at Time Square on August 5, 2020 in New York City. (Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

#SaveThe600 Coalition Slams Trump Executive Action as 'False Promise' to Laid-Off Workers and Desperate Families

"It is likely illegal, unworkable, won't get money to anyone quickly or for long, and is deeply inequitable."

Jake Johnson

Condemning President Donald Trump's unemployment insurance directive as a "false promise" to millions of laid-off workers that "won't get money to anyone quickly or for long," a coalition of nearly two dozen progressive advocacy organizations demanded Monday that the White House and Republicans immediately return to the negotiating table and revive the lapsed $600-per-week federal benefit increase.

The #SaveThe600 coalition warned in a statement that Trump's unemployment insurance (UI) memorandum—which proposes using $44 billion in disaster relief funds to increase UI benefits by $400 per week, with cash-strapped states kicking in 25% of the cost—"won't get relief to desperate families." As Common Dreams reported, the directive intentionally excludes many poor Americans by limiting relief to people currently receiving "at least $100 per week" in state unemployment benefits.

"The memorandum doesn't solve the problems people are facing. We need real action now, not political stunts."
—#SaveThe600 Coalition

"States must now scramble to set up new benefit systems to pay an inadequate and short-lived benefit, at the worst possible moment," the coalition said. "Millions of workers suffering large income losses have waited weeks or months to receive their first UI payments, and many face unfair denials due to overzealous scrutiny of claims. Further burdening UI agencies is inexcusable when millions of people remain in limbo."

"Indeed, it looks as if states will need to set up entirely new mechanisms to deliver these funds, which could take weeks or months to do," the coalition added. "Many states simply will not invest in distributing this benefit."

The groups' statement came as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin claimed Monday that the new unemployment benefits will be going out in most states "within the next week or two"—a timeline that experts met with deep skepticism.

"They think they will be able to get the new funds to the unemployed up and running in two weeks? I'm at a complete loss for words," tweeted Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst with the National Employment Law Project.

Ernie Tedeschi, a former Treasury Department economist, said that "even if the legal and logistical ambiguities are resolved for federal officials in two weeks," it is "easy to imagine there still being hitches and challenges as states try to implement this significantly-different UI program on the ground."

Trump's executive action on unemployment benefits and other matters came after the White House and Democratic negotiators failed to reach an agreement last week on a broad coronavirus relief package. Unemployment insurance was one of the major sticking points during the negotiations; Democrats proposed extending the $600-per-week payments through January of next year and the White House countered with $400, an $800 monthly reduction in benefits.

The #SaveThe600 coalition accused the White House and congressional Republicans of engaging in "cruel gamesmanship" and urged Congress to swiftly "pass a package that is robust and comprehensive enough to match this unprecedented crisis."

"The memorandum doesn't solve the problems people are facing," the coalition said. "Millions of children live in households without enough to eat or that are behind on rent. State and local governments are facing deep budget cuts with lasting consequences for their residents, especially women. Immigrant families need relief. We need real action now, not political stunts."

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