Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin vowed on August 10 that "within the next week or two," most states would be able to set up and carry out President Donald Trump's makeshift program authorizing a $300-per-week federal boost to unemployment benefits.
As of Tuesday, more than two weeks after Mnuchin's comments, just Arizona and Texas have begun distributing the $300 weekly payments, leading Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) to declare that "Trump's smoke-and-mirrors executive orders are simply not good enough."
"The American people need real relief that fights the pandemic and puts money in workers' pockets—posturing and gimmicks will not solve the enormous problems they face."
—Rep. Don Beyer Earlier this month, after the White House and Democratic congressional leaders failed to reach a deal extending the federal unemployment supplement that lapsed at the end of July, Trump signed an order redirecting up to $44 billion in disaster funds into a new program that lawmakers and experts criticized as illegal, unworkable, and woefully inadequate. The president promised the benefits would be "rapidly distributed."
The Lost Wages Assistance program greenlights a $300-per-week federal supplement to existing state unemployment benefits, with cash-strapped states expected to kick in an additional $100 each week. The $300 weekly federal boost represents just half of the $600-per-week supplement that officially expired on July 31 thanks to opposition from congressional Republicans and the Trump administration.
As Bloomberg reported Tuesday, 30 states have been approved for the federal benefits but many are struggling to get the program up and running due to its design. Officials from Utah and New Mexico, two states that have been approved for the program, told Bloomberg that "they anticipate it will be a few weeks before payments reach residents."
Beyer, the vice chair of the congressional Joint Economic Committee, noted in a statement Tuesday that "it has been a month now since Senate Republicans shamefully allowed enhanced unemployment benefits to expire," drastically cutting the incomes of around 30 million Americans.
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"The American people need real relief that fights the pandemic and puts money in workers' pockets—posturing and gimmicks will not solve the enormous problems they face," said Beyer. "If the White House does not get serious about the level of aid that is needed, it will imperil the economic recovery."
Beyer's warning comes amid numerous signs—including surging unemployment claims—that the recovery is sputtering as Covid-19 continues to spread across the United States. Some analysts have linked the expiration of the $600-per-week federal unemployment boost to faltering consumer spending:
Consumer spending is now collapsing with the end of the $600/wk Pandemic UI benefit. See this graphic from Facteus which tracks prepaid debit cards where UI was being deposited - and wages don't seem to be growing to compensate.https://t.co/9YChWpez5m pic.twitter.com/k1x6xcPIYG
— Nathan Newman (@nathansnewman) August 24, 2020
Despite the worrying trajectory of the overall economy and the dire financial conditions that tens of millions of Americans are currently facing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has shown no interest in calling his chamber back from summer recess to work with House Democrats on a Covid-19 relief package.
"Thirty million don't have enough to eat, 22 million are behind on rent," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tweeted Monday. "It is morally obscene that the American people have to rely on GoFundMe to pay for rent and food. Mitch McConnell: End your vacation. Pass emergency relief now."