Trump signs executive actions after stimulus talks break down on Capitol Hill

Posted at 6:07 PM, Aug 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-08 20:08:56-04

President Donald Trump signed four executive actions Saturday, one of which will provide as much as $400 in enhanced unemployment benefits -- 25% of which states are being asked to cover -- after Democrats and the White House were unable to reach an agreement on a coronavirus stimulus relief bill this week.

The other three actions he signed include a payroll tax holiday for Americans earning less than $100,000 a year, as well as extending an eviction moratorium and deferring student loan payments.

"I'm taking action to provide an additional or extra $400 a week and expanded benefits, $400. That's generous but we want to take care of our people," Trump said at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Trump said $300 (75%) of the enhanced aid will come from the federal government, and $100 (25%) will, therefore, have to come from the states. Since governors would have to pay that $100 for people to get the full benefit, it is not clear how many of those unemployed would be able to receive the full $400 benefit.

A memorandum issued by the White House shortly after Trump's news conference said that up to $44 billion from the Disaster Relief Fund would be made available for "lost wage assistance" to supplement state payments.

But when asked about the President's executive action asking states to pay 25% of the $400 unemployment relief, an official from a northeastern state run by a Democratic governor laughed. "We don't have that money," the official said.

This official went on to say that they were not given any heads up on this executive action and that in the wake of the pandemic, their funds are completely tapped.

In fact, states have asked Congress to provide them with an additional $500 billion to help shore up their budgets, which have been crushed by the loss of tax revenue amid the pandemic. This is one of the main points of contention between Democrats, who want to allocate additional aid, and Republicans, who don't want to bail out what they say are badly managed states.

Also, the millions of Americans who've filed for jobless benefits have drained several states' unemployment benefits trust funds. Already, 10 states have borrowed nearly $20 billion from the Treasury Department to cover their share of payments, which typically last 26 weeks.

When asked by a reporter on Saturday why $400 instead of the previous $600, Trump responded, "This is the money they need, this is the money they want, this gives them a great incentive to go back to work."

He went on to say, "there was a difficulty with the 600 number because it really was a disincentive."

Trump administration officials had maintained some people receiving the original $600 extra benefit would not have an incentive to return to work because they were making more with unemployment aid than they did in salary.

Likewise, Republicans haven't wanted to continue the $600 supplement, which expired July 31 and was part of the historic expansion to the nation's unemployment benefits program lawmakers passed in late March, because they say it could delay people's return to work. When combined with state benefits, about two-thirds of workers make more than they earned at their former jobs, a University of Chicago study found. GOP lawmakers initially floated giving the jobless a $200 supplement for at least two months and then a payment that would provide 70% of the laid-off worker's former wage, when added to state benefits.

Democrats, on the other hand, say the economy is still weak and the jobless need the $600 to pay their bills.

Trump said he believes that the unemployment aid will be "rapidly distributed," even though there are potential challenges over the legality of his executive action.

Democrats are likely to challenge the executive actions in court. Trump first laid out the executive actions at a hastily called news conference on Friday at his New Jersey golf club, where he said he wasn't concerned about the legality of the actions he promised.

Trump also said Saturday his administration was looking at additional income tax and capital gains tax cuts for American taxpayers, besides the payroll tax holiday being instituted by executive action.

"We are going to be looking at capital gains for the purpose of creating jobs and income taxes is self-explanatory, and it will be income tax for middle income and lower-income people but middle-income people who pay a lot of income tax, you have tax inequality. I'm saying that as a Republican, and you do have tax inequality," Trump said.

He did not provide further details.

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