Hours after President Donald Trump called for $2,000 stimulus checks, a $900 billion coronavirus relief package is in jeopardy.
In the final days of his presidency, Trump surprised the country once again by saying the $600 agreed-upon checks weren’t going to cut it. His remarks at the White House on Tuesday evening came after months of contentious Congressional negotiations.
“It’s called the Covid relief bill, but it has almost nothing to do with Covid,” Trump said in a Twitter message “Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists and special interests while sending the bare minimum to the American people.”
As unemployment continues to weigh on the economy — more than 800,000 Americans filed for a first-time benefit last week — and consumer confidence dipped unexpectedly this month, many struggling families have criticized the aid package as being too little and too late.
After Trump’s remarks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is requesting a vote in the House to amend the bill by unanimous consent.
“Republicans repeatedly refused to say what amount the President wanted for direct checks. At last, the President has agreed to $2,000 — Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!” Pelosi wrote on Twitter.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and several other high-profile Democrats have rallied behind Pelosi.
But other top leaders say the President, who has been preoccupied with his election loss, was briefed on the relief negotiations for months, and his own officials were heavily involved.
The current package includes the inclusion of up to $600 in direct payments to most Americans — half of the $1,200 sent out as part of the CARES Act enacted in late March. Like the first round of checks, the size of the benefit would be reduced for people who earn more than $75,000 last year. Families will also receive $600 per child, compared with $500 in the first round.
An extension has been given to the unemployment programs set to expire at the end of December. The first is the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides aid to the self-employed, as well as temporary workers and gig workers. Second, the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program offers an extra 13 weeks of benefits beyond the typical 26 weeks that states provide to the jobless.
According to officials, the new bill would renew the additional $300 a week for the unemployed — less than the $600 provided under the CARES Act. The enhanced payments will be disbursed through March 14. What’s more, the measure provides tax credits for employers that offer paid sick leave related to COVID-19.
The agreement includes $248 billion for another round of Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses. Of that funding, $12 billion is allocated to minority-owned businesses and $15 billion will be directed to live event venues, independent movie theaters and cultural institutions.
While Trump’s remarks focused on the direct payments to Americans, the entire package is now at risk.
— With contributions from Samantha McDonald