Costs and benefits
August 11, 2020

The executive order President Trump signed Sunday to unilaterally extend supplemental unemployment benefits doesn't appropriate any new funds — only Congress can do that — and requires states to cover 25 percent of the costs, a financial hit most cash-strapped states would struggle to absorb, even if they could overcome the technical hurdles of carrying out the scheme. The $44 billion Trump offered comes from FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund.

House Democrats passed a bill in May that would have extended $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits, plus giving aid to state and local governments, but Senate Republicans did not offer their own bill and those jobless benefits lapsed Aug. 1. Democratic leaders and White House negotiators hit a wall in negotiating a new package on Friday, and Trump announced his executive action Saturday, offering $400 a week — $100 of which legally has to come from states under the law he is using to sidestep Congress.

If every state applied to participate in Trump's new, legally questionable unemployment benefit scheme, the FEMA money would dry out in five or six weeks, after states updated their antiquated unemployment systems to meet the requirements of Trump's order, says Andrew Stettner, an unemployment aid expert at the Century Foundation. "No one's getting a payment from this in August. If they're lucky, they'll get it in September."

State officials from both parties said Monday they can't afford to pay the billions required when they are cutting their own workforce. Democratic governors were more vocal about their misgivings, but even Republicans who praised Trump for sidestepping Congress declined to say they would participate in his order. North Carolina officials questioned using FEMA disaster funds at the start of what's forecast to be a busy hurricane season. "States shouldn't be forced to choose which disaster victims to help," Dory MacMillan, press secretary Gov. Roy Cooper (D), told The Associated Press.

"I honestly think this can't possibly be serious," Michele Evermore at the liberal-leaning National Employment Law Project told Politico. "The White House must have released this thinking that this is just a negotiating tactic because it really is an empty promise." Peter Weber

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