Congress passed a COVID-19 relief bill last week after months of negotiations. The emergency relief came at the last minute ― the federal programs Congress created earlier this year to help Americans who lost their jobs due to the pandemic expired on Dec. 26. But Trump, who had shown little interest in participating in COVID-19 relief discussions, cast doubt on the package in the eleventh hour and essentially threatened to veto it unless Congress reconvened to negotiate a new deal. Trump caved on his demands, begrudgingly signing the bill on Sunday night.
His delay will have real-life consequences for millions of Americans, although experts are still sorting out the potential damage. The worst case would be for unemployment recipients to miss out on one week of the extra $300 included in the bill, according to Michele Evermore, an unemployment policy expert with the National Employment Law Project. That would mean 10 weeks of extra federal employment benefits rather than the 11 included in the legislation.
States may, however, be able to rectify the situation by modifying the dates of the new benefits programs with the Department of Labor and allowing for back pay. But that would take time to implement, likely causing a delay in people receiving their checks, Evermore said.
“For families wondering how they will pay January rent or buy groceries, a weeks-long delay could have serious consequences,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said Sunday in a statement. “While it’s a huge relief that the bill is signed, Donald Trump’s tantrum has created unnecessary hardship and stress for millions of families.”
The president’s outburst was at odds with his own party and administration, which had painstakingly negotiated the bill for months. But it also could have thrown the country into chaos — refusal to sign the bill would have caused a government shutdown, delayed distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine and slowed down stimulus payments.
Trump criticized the bill last week, saying the government spending Congress passed was “wasteful” and calling the coronavirus provisions inadequate. He said he wouldn’t support the bill unless Congress increased direct stimulus payments ― which supports a big push from Democratic lawmakers ― and eliminated several foreign aid provisions.
The law includes relief for small businesses, money for vaccine procurement and distribution, and aid for K-12 schools, colleges and universities. It will also provide $300 a week in unemployment until mid-March, as well as a $600 direct payment to Americans earning under $75,000. The bill passed in Congress with veto-proof majorities: 359-53 in the House and 92-6 in the Senate.