Sabtu, 26 Desember 2020

US unemployment benefits for millions in limbo as midnight deadline for Donald Trump to sign relief bill approaches - ABC News

Unemployment benefits for millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet are set to lapse at midnight Saturday night (US time) unless President Donald Trump signs an end-of-year COVID-19 relief and spending bill that had been considered a done deal before his sudden objections.

Mr Trump stunned Republicans and Democrats alike when he said this week he was unhappy with the US$2.3 trillion ($3.02 trillion) pandemic aid and spending package, which provides $892 billion in badly needed coronavirus relief, including extending special unemployment benefits expiring on December 26, and $US1.4 trillion for normal government spending.

Without Mr Trump's signature, about 14 million people could lose those extra benefits, according to Labor Department data.

A partial government shutdown will begin on Tuesday unless Congress can agree a stop-gap government funding bill before then.

"It's a chess game and we are pawns," said Lanetris Haines, a self-employed single mother of three in South Bend, Indiana, who stands to lose her $129 weekly jobless benefit unless Mr Trump signs the package into law or succeeds in his improbable quest for changes.

President Donald Trump listens during a ceremony to present the Presidential Medal of Freedom
President Trump insisted the bill did not do enough to help everyday people.(AP: Evan Vucci)

Washington has been reeling since Mr Trump threw the package into limbo after it had already won sweeping approval in both houses of Congress and after the White House assured Republican leaders that Mr Trump would support it.

Instead, he has assailed the bill's plan to provide $US600 COVID relief checks to most Americans — insisting it should be $US2,000.

House Republicans swiftly rejected that idea during a rare Christmas Eve session. But Mr Trump has not been swayed.

A woman holds a sign saying 1 in 6 black women are unemployed.
Unemployment has skyrocketed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.(Reuters: Jonathan Ernst)

Many economists agree the bill's aid is too low but say the immediate support is still welcome and necessary.

"All these folks and their families will suffer if Mr Trump doesn't sign the damn bill," Heidi Shierholz, director of policy at the liberal Economic Policy Institute, tweeted Wednesday.

However, she said the unemployed could potentially receive payments retroactively if the bill is eventually signed.

'Abdication of responsibility'

Two young women sitting on the ground filling out unemployment papers on clipboards
Special unemployment benefits are set to expire on December 26.(Reuters: Nick Oxford)

President-elect Joe Biden called on Mr Trump to sign the bill immediately as two federal programs providing unemployment aid were set to expire Saturday.

"This abdication of responsibility has devastating consequences … This bill is critical. It needs to be signed into law now," Mr Biden, who is spending the holiday in his home state of Delaware, said in a statement.

Americans face an unprecedented holiday season amid a pandemic that has killed nearly 330,000 people in the United States, with a daily death toll now repeatedly well over 3,000 people, the highest since the pandemic began.

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

Sharon Shelton Corpening had been hoping the extra help would allow her 83-year-old mother, with whom she lives, to stop eating into her social security payments to make their $1,138 rent.

Ms Corpening, who lives in the Atlanta area, had launched a freelance content strategy business that was just taking off before the pandemic hit, prompting several of her contracts to fall through.

She is receiving about $125 a week under the pandemic unemployment program and says she will be unable to pay her bills in about a month.

Donald Trump and Melania Trump in black suit jackets stand in front of Christmas Trees
Mr Trump is spending the holidays at his Mar-a-Lago club with his family.(Twitter: @realdonaldtrump)

On Saturday, Mr Trump remained at his Mar-a-Lago club, with minimal staff but with members of his family, including senior advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

He has been sending tweets repeating his baseless claims about election fraud and accusing his fellow Republicans of abandoning him in his bid to overturn the election result, already shot down multiple times by US courts.

He is yet to acknowledge Mr Biden's November 3 victory.

In addition to freezing unemployment benefits, Mr Trump's lack of action on the bill would lead to the expiration of eviction protections and put on hold a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants and theatre's, along with money to help schools and vaccine distribution.

The relief is also attached to a $US1.4 trillion government funding bill to keep the federal government operating.


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2020-12-27 00:19:00Z

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