Trump Signs Pandemic Relief Bill After Unemployment Aid Lapses

After calling the measure a “disgrace,” President Trump unexpectedly signed the bill, extending expanded unemployment benefits and an eviction moratorium, and keeping the government open.

President Trump on Sunday abruptly signed a measure providing $900 billion in pandemic aid and funding the government through September, ending last-minute turmoil he himself had created over legislation that will offer an economic lifeline to millions of Americans and avert a government shutdown.

The legislative package will provide billions of dollars for the distribution of vaccines, funds for schools, small businesses, hospitals and American families, and money needed to keep the government open for the remainder of the fiscal year. The enactment came less than 48 hours before the government would have shut down and just days before an eviction moratorium and other critical pandemic relief provisions were set to expire.

But it also came after two critical unemployment programs lapsed, guaranteeing a delay in benefits for millions of unemployed Americans.

The crisis was one of Mr. Trump’s own making, after he blindsided lawmakers and White House officials with a videotaped implicit threat on Tuesday to veto the package, which his top deputies had helped negotiate and which had cleared both chambers of Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support nearly a week ago. The 5,593-page legislation was flown to Florida, where the president is spending the winter holidays, on Thursday and had been waiting for Mr. Trump’s signature since.

Having been largely on the sidelines during monthslong negotiations, the president suddenly threatened to withhold his signature with an unexpected demand to more than triple the $600 direct payments to $2,000 and with criticism over some government funding provisions that provided foreign aid. But Republicans had insisted on curtailing the size of the direct payments to accommodate conservative concerns about the size of the package, and the provisions Mr. Trump singled out were in line with the president’s budget request this year.

Even as he acquiesced to bipartisan pleas to sign the legislation, the president issued a series of demands for congressional action, though lawmakers showed little immediate eagerness to embrace them with just six days left in the session.

“I will sign the omnibus and Covid package with a strong message that makes clear to Congress that wasteful items need to be removed,” Mr. Trump said in a statement late Sunday, saying he would send a formal request asking for some of the funds to be removed. But the 25-day time frame for considering such a request will collide with the inauguration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Jan. 20, and House Democrats said they do not plan to vote on the request.

“The House Appropriations Committee has jurisdiction over rescissions, and our Democratic majority will reject any rescissions submitted by President Trump,” said Representative Nita Lowey of New York, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. “By turning the page on this request, we will allow the Biden-Harris administration to begin to build back better.”

Mr. Trump claimed in his statement that the Senate would “start the process for a vote” on legislation that would increase direct payments and address a provision that would repeal a legal shield for social media companies that he has tried to force into a sweeping military policy bill. The president, who has been consumed with false claims of voter fraud since his election loss, also claimed that Congress would take up the issue, a certain nonstarter for Democrats, who control the House.

House Democrats plan on Monday to vote on legislation that would provide for $2,000 direct payments, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying Mr. Trump should “immediately call on congressional Republicans to end their obstruction” and support the measure. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, said he would move to pass the bill in the Senate, but such a maneuver would require Republican support.

But during the negotiations, Senate Republicans have resisted increasing the payments, citing concerns about the deficit. In a statement applauding the president’s signature, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, made no mention of the $2,000 payments or any of the president’s assertions about the next steps for the chamber he controls.

“I applaud President Trump’s decision to get hundreds of billions of dollars of crucial Covid-19 relief out the door and into the hands of American families as quickly as possible,” Mr. McConnell said, without any mention of the delay Mr. Trump caused.

While the legislation provides for expanded and extended unemployment benefits, Mr. Trump’s delay in signing allowed two critical programs to lapse this weekend and guarantees a delay in benefits for millions of Americans who had relied on the income. The legislation provides for a weekly $300 federal benefit — about half the original benefit established in the March stimulus law — for 11 weeks, and extends the two programs.

With state unemployment agencies waiting for federal guidance on how to put the new legislation in place, it is unclear how quickly those programs could resume and whether the benefits would be retroactive to accommodate the delay. Because unemployment benefits are processed weekly and the legislation was not signed before the beginning of the week, it is likely that workers in most states will lose a week of benefits under the expanded program, as well as a week with the $300 supplemental benefit.

“They might get it at the back end, but there are bills tomorrow,” said Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst for the National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit workers’ rights group. “It’s just so frustrating that he couldn’t have figured this out yesterday. One day of delay is catastrophe for millions.”

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