Unemployment benefits expire for millions as Trump rages

WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA (AP) – Unemployment benefits for millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet lapsed overnight as United States (US) President Donald Trump refused to signed an end-of-year COVID relief and spending bill that had been considered a done deal before his sudden objections.

The fate of the bipartisan package remained in limbo yesterday as Trump continued to demand larger COVID relief checks and complained about spending. Without the widespread funding provided by the massive measure, a government shutdown would occur when money runs out at 12.01am tomorrow.

“It’s a chess game and we are pawns,” said Lanetris Haines, a self-employed single mother of three in South Bend, Indiana, who stood to lose her USD129 weekly jobless benefit unless Trump signed the package into law or succeeded in his improbable quest for changes.

Washington has been reeling since Trump turned on the deal after it had won sweeping approval in both houses of Congress and after the White House had assured Republican leaders that Trump would support it.

Instead, he assailed the bill’s plan to provide USD600 COVID relief checks to most Americans — insisting it should be USD2,000. House Republicans swiftly rejected that idea during a rare Christmas Eve session. But Trump has not been swayed in spite of the nation being in the grip of a pandemic.

“I simply want to get our great people USD2000, rather than the measly USD600 that is now in the bill,” Trump tweeted on Saturday from Palm Beach, Florida, where he is spending the holiday.

President-elect Joe Biden called on Trump to sign the bill immediately as the midnight Saturday deadline neared for two federal programmes providing unemployment aid.

“It is the day after Christmas, and millions of families don’t know if they’ll be able to make ends meet because of President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign an economic relief bill approved by Congress with an overwhelming and bipartisan majority,” Biden said in a statement. He accused Trump of an “abdication of responsibility” that has “devastating consequences”.

“I’ve been talking to people who are scared they’re going to be kicked out from their homes, during the holidays, and still might be if we don’t sign this bill,’’ said Rep Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat.

Lauren Bauer, a fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, has calculated that 11 million people would lose aid from the programmes immediately without additional relief; millions more would exhaust other unemployment benefits within weeks.

Andrew Stettner, an unemployment insurance expert and senior fellow at the Century Foundation think tank, said the number may be closer to 14 million because joblessness has spiked since Thanksgiving.

“All these folks and their families will suffer if Trump doesn’t sign the damn bill,’’ Director of policy at the liberal Economic Policy Institute Heidi Shierholz tweeted on Wednesday.

How and when people would be affected by the lapse depended on the state they lived in, the programme they were relying on and when they applied for benefits. In some states, people on regular unemployment insurance would continue to receive payments under a programme that extends benefits when the jobless rate surpassed a certain threshold, Stettner said.