- The president could cost jobless workers a week of $300 federal unemployment benefits if the relief legislation is not signed by midnight Saturday.
- State agencies can only distribute benefits for weeks the legislation is enacted, experts say.
- Nearly 14 millions Americans are threatened with the loss of all their unemployment aid this weekend.
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President Donald Trump has suggested he may reject the $900 billion coronavirus relief package that Congress approved earlier this week unless lawmakers include $2,000 stimulus payments. He still hasn't signed it into law and has given few indications of which direction he'll swing.
The continued delay endangers a broad range of federal assistance programs in the legislation as well. It could prove costly for millions of Americans receiving unemployment benefits since they were supposed to restart December 26.
If Trump doesn't sign the federal rescue package by the end of Saturday, it would effectively cut a week of $300 federal unemployment benefits for jobless people, according to Michele Evermore, a policy expert at the National Employment Law Project.
However, she cautioned it's hard to project without federal guidance how the holdup would affect other unemployment programs.
"I'm not entirely sure how this will be interpreted - at the very least, we lose a week of the $300," Evermore told Insider. "No matter what, if he doesn't sign, next week it goes down to 10 weeks of an extra $300."
Experts like Evermore say a two-to-three week gap in unemployment benefits is inevitable since states need time to recalibrate their computer systems to send the payments.
States can't provide benefits for weeks before the relief legislation is actually approved. Depending when it's signed, that could put labor agencies on track to restart the payouts during the first week of January. The $300 federal supplement would still end on March 14, setting up only a 10-week extension instead of 11.
Trump's move also threatens to financially devastate millions of Americans heading into next year. Saturday is the last day that two federal unemployment programs distribute their payments. They are the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for gig workers and freelancers and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation for people who exhausted state benefits.
That pair of programs set up under the CARES Act in March cover 14 million people and expire this month. The president's calendar has no public events listed for the weekend. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
The president maintained his position in a tweet on Saturday morning, saying he wanted to increase stimulus payments and remove unrelated provisions from the large tax-and-spending package.
—Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 26, 2020
"I simply want to get out great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill," Trump tweeted. "Also, stop the billions of dollars in 'pork'."
Democrats fiercely criticized Trump on Saturday. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, said the president was "throwing a tantrum" and urged him to sign the legislation.
"If Donald Trump doesn't sign the COVID relief bill today, many workers won't receive their income for the week of December 27- not even retroactively," he said in a statement. "The ability of millions of Americans to keep a roof over their heads and buy groceries hangs in the balance."
On Tuesday evening, Trump threatened in a video posted on Twitter to derail the $900 billion coronavirus relief package alongside the government spending bill it was paired with to accelerate their passage. He blasted provisions in the funding legislation such as money for the Kennedy Center, though his budget request had allocated funds for it.
The development stunned lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who had expected the president to sign the legislation given the White House's public statements on it. Trump had largely delegated relief negotiations to Congressional leaders for months.
The coronavirus relief legislation contained $600 direct payments, $300 weekly federal unemployment benefits, funding for food stamps and rental assistance, and small business aid among other measures. It passed Congress with a strong bipartisan majority on Monday evening, which could potentially pave the way for a veto override.
In a bit of political jockeying, House Democrats on Thursday swiftly attempted to advance a measure to approve $2,000 stimulus checks. But House Republicans immediately blocked it. Speaker Nancy Pelosi assailed the GOP move and vowed to bring up the legislation for another vote on Monday.
Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, a top Trump ally in Congress, suggested the president was holding firm on his position on Saturday afternoon.
"After spending some time with President @realDonaldTrump today, I am convinced he is more determined than ever to increase stimulus payments to $2000 per person and challenge Section 230 big tech liability protection," Graham tweeted.