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Volunteers load boxes of food assistance into cars at a food distribution event sponsored by the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, Faith Neighborhood Center, and WESH 2 at Hope International Church on December 9, 2020 in Groveland, Florida.

Volunteers load boxes of food assistance into cars at a food distribution event sponsored by the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, Faith Neighborhood Center, and WESH 2 at Hope International Church on December 9, 2020 in Groveland, Florida. (Photo: Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

'A Terrible and Costly Stunt': Trump Delay in Signing Relief Bill Could Cost Millions a Full Week of Unemployment Aid

"Caused needless anguish and financial distress for tens of millions of jobless living on the brink."

Jake Johnson, staff writer

President Donald Trump's decision to wait until late Sunday to sign a $900 billion coronavirus relief measure into law will likely cost millions of jobless Americans a week of unemployment aid, given that the bill's extension of benefits is still set to end in mid-March.

Trump's signature, which paves the way for a $300 weekly boost to jobless benefits, came a day after two emergency unemployment programs lapsed, leaving around 14 million struggling Americans even more worried about their ability to cover rent and put food on the table.

"Nothing at all changed in the bill from yesterday to today, but if he'd signed it yesterday millions of unemployed Americans would have more money in their pockets that they dearly need."
—Rep. Don Beyer

The president's official approval of the bill after nearly a week of delay over last-minute demands ensures that the emergency programs will be extended, but the move does not change the March 14 end date of the extension. Because benefit weeks begin on Sundays in most states, Trump's belated signature will likely result in a week of lost assistance.

The unemployment benefits under the relief measure are not retroactive.

"Nothing at all changed in the bill from yesterday to today, but if he'd signed it yesterday millions of unemployed Americans would have more money in their pockets that they dearly need," Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said late Sunday. "A terrible and costly stunt that achieved nothing but chaos and misery. Classic Trump."

In a statement over the weekend, Beyer explained that the "new $300 payments of enhanced benefits (FPUC) cannot begin until the president's signature gives the bill force of law, and states are barred from processing payments for weeks ending before the bill is signed."

"Once signed, the bill will still cut off funding and authorization at the mid-March date demanded by Senate Republicans, and there is no provision to restore the first of the 11 weeks of enhanced benefits, which will be denied to unemployment insurance recipients," said the Virginia Democrat. "The impact could be significantly worse depending on agency guidance that will determine the impacts of a delayed signature on the other programs."

Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, expressed relief that Trump signed the measure—which progressives have criticized as badly inadequate—but lamented that the president's delay "caused needless anguish and financial distress for tens of millions of jobless living on the brink."

Thanks to months of obstruction by Senate Republicans, millions of unemployed Americans were already likely to see a lapse in unemployment payments even if Trump had signed the relief legislation earlier, as states need time to adjust to the new law. But Trump's dithering likely extended the anticipated benefit lapse, compounding the economic pain of millions of desperate Americans.

Michele Evermore, senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project (NELP), said late Sunday that she and other advocates are "trying to make the case that weeks beginning after the date of enactment includes today."

"We are trying very hard to make sure interpretation [of the new law] will include this week. Stay tuned," Evermore tweeted. "We're pulling for you and we are not going to sleep until we exhaust every avenue."


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