Over the weekend President Donald Trump signed four Executive Orders and Memoranda designed to provide relief for Americans amid the coronavirus pandemic reported Forbes. The actions were taken after the White House and Congress failed to come to an agreement on an overall stimulus package.
One of the orders extends the unemployment benefits that expired at the end of last month. Those benefits provided $600 additional per month, while the president’s new order provides for $300/month from the federal government and instructs states to provide an additional $100/month for a total of $400 per month. The money from the states is not guaranteed, and would be up to the individual governors. “If they don’t, they don’t. That’s up to them,” Trump said about the governors providing the extra money. “The states have the money. It’s sitting there.”
The federal funds for the unemployment benefits are to come from the Department of Homeland Security’s Disaster Relief Fund (DRF). The Order states, “I am hereby directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist in providing benefits from the DRF, and am calling upon the States to use their CRF allocation, to bring continued financial relief to Americans who are suffering from unemployment due to the COVID-19 outbreak.” CRF refers to the states’ portion of funds from the March coronavirus relief package.
The lower total of unemployment benefits addresses concerns from Republicans that the previous rate was too high and was discouraging people from returning to work. “This is the money they need, this is the money they want, this gives them an incentive to go back to work,” the president said.
Other orders by the president deal with extended eviction protection to prevent renters from being thrown out of their homes due to lack of funds to pay rent, continuing relief for student loan borrowers by keeping interest rates at zero and extending a moratorium on payments from September to the end of the year, and a deferment of payroll taxes for workers making less than $100,000 per year beginning on September 1, NPR reported.
Congressional Democrats are furious about the executive actions. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) complained that the orders are not sufficient and do not cover enough areas. “The other choice is for them to do executive orders which by their own admission, they said it to us repeatedly is not close to as good,” Schumer said. “It doesn’t cover opening of schools. It doesn’t cover testing. It doesn’t cover dealing with rental assistance. It doesn’t cover elections. It doesn’t cover so many things.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called the president’s actions “illusions,” according to Fox News.
Trump’s bypassing of Congress may not be on strong legal grounds. However, challenging the orders in court comes with a potentially large political price. The lack of a workable stimulus package emanating from the Congress affects the financial situation of millions of Americans. With an election upcoming in November any legal challenges to the president’s orders from Democrats would give the president’s campaign team a public relations bonanza.