Stimulus in Limbo, but Not the Rent or Utility Bills

More than 10 million Americans have been left in financial limbo — many of them on the brink of poverty — as Congress and the nation wait to see whether President Trump will withhold approval of the $900 billion pandemic relief package sent to him for signing on Christmas Eve.

The bill would extend unemployment benefits that ran out on Saturday while also providing most taxpayers with a one-time payment of $600, a vital boost for financially pressed workers and an economy on the edge of another contraction.

But President Trump’s unexpected demand for a $2,000 per individual payment has put the aid effort in jeopardy. For many families, hopes raised just days ago for a better start to the new year have been replaced by fears that they will end up with no money at all.

“There’s a disconnect between what’s happening in Washington and what’s really going on in this country,” said Melissa Martinez, 52, of Westminster, Colo., who had been collecting jobless benefits.

Ms. Martinez said she has applied for more than 50 jobs since being laid off as an operations manager for a transportation company in April. Like millions of others, her unemployment benefits expired the day after Christmas. “I’m out of options,” she said.

She has a lung condition that requires her to be on oxygen and makes her vulnerable to Covid-19 so she has only looked for jobs that will allow her to work remotely. But if the stimulus bill collapses, she may seek jobs that will require her to show up in person. “I’ll probably have to go against my doctor’s orders,” she said.

Without the bailout money, Jennifer Bryant and her family will probably lose their home in Flowery Branch, Ga., early next year. She and her fiancé, who have five children between them, had been collecting the now-expired unemployment benefits. Besides the extension of those benefits, the relief package would have kept in place a moratorium on evictions that will otherwise expire on Dec. 31.

“When Congress passed it, it was the biggest sigh of relief for us,” said Ms. Bryant, 39, who is about behind on her rent. But then she watched a video that Mr. Trump posted on Twitter, in which he called the bill “a disgrace” and implied he would not to sign it.

“I went to bed in tears,” Ms. Bryant said. “To have our hope pulled out from under us, our lifeline. It’s devastating.”

Mr. Trump had been expected to sign the bill, which was passed last Monday, after months of congressional gridlock over a successor to the $2.2 trillion CARES Act. Mr. Trump was largely absent from negotiations over the bill. His video on Tuesday night surprised even senior administration officials and represented an embarrassment for his top economic lieutenant, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who helped negotiate the agreement with Congress and had applauded the passage of the bill earlier that day.

If Mr. Trump does not sign the bill by Jan. 3, it will die with the arrival of the new Congress. White House officials did not have any comment on Sunday on Mr. Trump’s plans.

House Democrats on Monday are expected to vote on a stand-alone bill that would provide for the $2,000 direct payments once the roughly $1.4 trillion government funding measure attached to the stimulus is signed into law. It is also possible that lawmakers will vote on a stopgap bill to prevent government funding from lapsing, but it is unclear whether such legislation could be signed into law before the government shuts down at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday.

It is unclear, too, whether Republicans in the Senate will take up the measure providing for the $2,000 payments, having resisted spending more than $1 trillion in additional pandemic relief for months.

Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, said on “Fox News Sunday” that he would oppose such a measure and urged the president to sign the original compromise bill, adding that “time is running out.”

Latest Updates

“I understand he wants to be remembered for advocating for big checks,” Mr. Toomey said. “But the danger is he’ll be remembered for chaos and misery and erratic behavior if he allows this to expire.”

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. favors more stimulus after he takes office on Jan. 20, but getting that passed is unlikely to be any easier than it was for the now-stalled $900 billion stimulus.

In addition to the one-time payments of $600, the stimulus legislation would provide a $300 a week subsidy to all workers receiving unemployment benefits. It would also renew two programs created by the CARES Act in March: Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which provides benefits to workers who have exhausted their state aid, and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which covers gig workers, part-time hires, seasonal workers and others who do not qualify for traditional unemployment benefits.

The second program has been crucial for Reiina Crider of Federal Way, Wash., who worked as a pet groomer and a delivery driver for Door Dash. When the virus struck and schools closed, she stopped working to take care of her 15-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter, who is deaf and has autism. Ms. Crider, 36, is also the guardian of her 14-year-old niece.

The $211 she receives each week from the program plus some additional federal benefits have not been enough to keep her from falling behind on rent, and she owes her landlord $1,500. Waiting for Congress to make up its mind on the bill was “terrifying,” she said.

“It’s the worst thing I could possibly imagine,” she said. “If you told me a year ago that the entire country would be suffering the way it is now, with no help from the government, I would have told you that would never happen. We live in America.”

More than 20 million Americans are collecting unemployment benefits and the unemployment rate stands at 6.7 percent. A year ago, before the pandemic hit, the jobless rate touched 3.5 percent, tying a 50-year low.

The Second Stimulus

Answers to Your Questions About the Stimulus Bill

Updated Dec 27, 2020

Lawmakers agreed to a plan to issue stimulus payments of $600 and distribute a federal unemployment benefit of $300 for 11 weeks. The bill overwhelmingly passed both houses of congress, but  President Trump is resisting signing it. Find more about the bill and what’s in it for you, should the President ultimately sign it into law.

    • Will I receive another stimulus payment? Individual adults with adjusted gross income on their 2019 tax returns of up to $75,000 a year would receive a $600 payment, and heads of households making up to $112,500 and a couple (or someone whose spouse died in 2020) earning up to $150,000 a year would get twice that amount. If they have dependent children, they would also get $600 for each child. People with incomes just above these levels would receive a partial payment that declines by $5 for every $100 in income.
    • When might my payment arrive? Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC that he expected the first payments to go out before the end of the year. But it will be a while before all eligible people receive their money.
    • Does the agreement affect unemployment insurance? Lawmakers agreed to extend the amount of time that people can collect unemployment benefits and restart an extra federal benefit that is provided on top of the usual state benefit. But instead of $600 a week, it would be $300. That would last through March 14.
    • I am behind on my rent or expect to be soon. Will I receive any relief? The agreement would provide $25 billion to be distributed through state and local governments to help renters who have fallen behind. To receive assistance, households would have to meet several conditions: Household income (for 2020) cannot exceed more than 80 percent of the area median income; at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability; and individuals must qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship — directly or indirectly — because of the pandemic. The agreement said assistance would be prioritized for families with lower incomes and that have been unemployed for three months or more.

    Source: Read Full Article