Covid-19: Millions of Americans lose reliefs as Trump resists signing aid package

President changed mind on $900m assistance plan and government shutdown now looms

US president Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump exit from Air Force One at the Palm Beach International Airport on December 23rd. Photograph:  Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

US president Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump exit from Air Force One at the Palm Beach International Airport on December 23rd. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

 

Millions of Americans have lost their Covid-19 unemployment payments after president Donald Trump resisted signing a sweeping $900 billion aid package into law.

He is demanding that US politicians more than triple the size of relief cheques that are to be provided under the package, putting the fate of the measure in limbo. The end-of-year Covid-19 relief and spending bill that had been considered a done deal before his sudden objections.

Mr Trump’s resistance to signing the Bill risks leaving millions of unemployed Americans without crucial benefits, jeopardises other critical assistance for businesses and families set to lapse at the end of the year, and raises the possibility of a government shutdown on Tuesday.

The package had won sweeping approval in both houses of congress and after the White House assured Republican leaders that the president would support it.

Instead, he has assailed the bill’s plan to provide $600 Covid-19 relief cheques to most Americans — insisting it should be $2,000.

House Republicans swiftly rejected that idea during a rare Christmas Eve session, but Mr Trump has not been swayed.

“I simply want to get our great people 2000, rather than the measly 600 that is now in the bill,” Mr Trump tweeted from Palm Beach, where he is spending the Christmas holiday. “Also, stop the billions of dollars in ‘pork.”’

US president-elect Joe Biden called on Mr Trump to sign the Bill immediately as the two federal programmes were set to expire on Saturday.

“It is the day after Christmas, and millions of families don’t know if they’ll be able to make ends meet because of President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign an economic relief bill approved by Congress with an overwhelming and bipartisan majority,” Mr Biden said.

Abdication

He accused Mr Trump of an “abdication of responsibility” that will have “devastating consequences”.

“I’ve been talking to people who are scared they’re going to be kicked out from their homes, during the Christmas holidays, and still might be if we don’t sign this bill,” said US representative Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat.

Lauren Bauer, a fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, has calculated that 11 million people would lose aid from the programmes immediately without additional relief; millions more would exhaust other unemployment benefits within weeks.

The bill awaiting Mr Trump’s signature would also activate a weekly $300 federal supplement to unemployment payments.

The president has been spending his final days in office golfing and angrily tweeting as he refuses to accept his loss to Mr Biden in the November 3rd election.

On Saturday, he again lashed out at members of his own party for failing to join his quest to try to overturn the results of the election with baseless claims of mass voter fraud that have been repeatedly rejected by the courts.

“If a Democrat Presidential Candidate had an Election Rigged & Stolen, with proof of such acts at a level never seen before, the Democrat Senators would consider it an act of war, and fight to the death,” he railed.

He also said senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and his Republicans “just want to let it pass. NO FIGHT!”

Lashed out

Mr Trump also lashed out at the supreme court, the justice department and the FBI as he seemed to encourage his supporters to gather in Washington on January 6th, the day US congress tallies the electoral college vote — even though a similar event last month devolved into violence, with multiple people being stabbed in the capital’s streets.

In addition to freezing unemployment benefits, Mr Trump’s lack of action on the Bill would lead to the expiration of eviction protections and put on hold a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants and theatres, along with money to help schools and vaccine distribution.

The relief is also attached to a $1.4 trillion dollar US government funding bill to keep the federal government operating. - Bloomberg/PA