BEDMINSTER, N.J. (AP) — President Donald Trump on Saturday bypassed the nation’s lawmakers as he claimed the authority to defer payroll taxes and replace an expired unemployment benefit with a lower amount after negotiations with Congress on a new coronavirus rescue package collapsed. The president cast his actions as necessary given that lawmakers have been unable to reach an agreement.
Trump moved to continue paying a supplemental federal unemployment benefit for millions of Americans out of work during the outbreak. However, his order called for up to $400 payments each week, one-third less than the $600 people had been receiving. How many people would receive the benefit and how long it might take to arrive were open questions.
The previous unemployment benefit, which expired on Aug. 1, was fully funded by Washington, but Trump is asking states to now cover 25%. He is seeking to set aside $44 billion in previously approved disaster aid to help states but said it would be up to states to determine how much, if any of it, to fund, so the benefits could be smaller still.
Trump hopes the four executive orders he signed will signal to Americans that he is acting where Congress will not address economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has upended nearly all aspects of American life.
In addition to the extension of some unemployment benefits, Trump’s orders call for a deferral of payroll tax and federal student loan payments and efforts to halt evictions. The evictions executive order directs the Treasury and Housing and Urban Development departments to identify funds to provide financial assistance to those struggling to pay their monthly rent.
Trump said the employee portion of the payroll tax would be deferred from Aug. 1 through the end of the year. The president said he would direct the Secretary of the Treasury to “explore avenues, including legislation, to eliminate the obligation to pay the taxes deferred pursuant to the implementation of this memorandum.” The move would not directly aid unemployed workers.