coronavirus relief
August 10, 2020

Up to 80 people who are part of the Senate cafeteria staff in the capitol could face layoffs by October if Congress can't emerge from its coronavirus relief deadlock, CNN reports.

The company that employs the workers, Restaurant Associates, did not confirm the number, but did not deny issuing warnings of potential layoffs, which are the result of having to close some of its restaurants because of the pandemic.

Senators told CNN they believe they will pass a bill that will fund the Architect of the Capitol — the federal agency that oversees the day-to-day function of the Capitol and has a private contract with Restaurant Associates — in time, allowing employees to continue to receive their paychecks, like the CARES Act did.

Lawmakers said they were committed to protecting the workers' jobs, although Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) blamed Restaurant Associates, which he said "has been a problem to deal with," rather than his colleagues for the layoffs threat. As Murphy sees it, the company is simply trying "get more money out of the Architect of the Capitol," which he said could mean it's "time to find a vendor that's not going to use the threats of layoffs as a cajole to try to get more money." Read more at CNN. Tim O'Donnell

August 9, 2020

If they accomplish what he says they will, President Trump's executive orders that promise to renew enhanced unemployment benefits, extend an eviction moratorium, and offer student loan relief would benefit millions of Americans who have felt the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, especially while Congress remains unable to produce a new relief deal. Like many executive actions, though, the move raises questions of constitutionality and it's unclear whether the orders would even be effective if they do pass the legal test.

It's safe to expect the efforts will get tied up in court, delaying any tangible relief to Americans, The New York Times reports. Democrats were quick to condemn Trump's order, arguing, among other things, that the eviction moratorium is "hollow" and doesn't provide rental assistance. There was particular concern about the fourth element of the orders, a payroll tax deferral, since the tax funds Social Security and Medicare.

Republicans appeared a little more forgiving about the details, but indicated they weren't pleased with the unilateral nature of the move. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he still prefers a "congressional agreement," while Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said Trump "is doing all he can to help students, renters, and workers, but Congress is the one who should be acting." Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) was harsher, calling it "unconstitutional slop."

Either way, as White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows himself admitted, the orders have several limitations. They do not include things like new direct payments to individuals and provide no aid to small businesses or state and local governments, all of which may be necessary for the economy to stay afloat. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

August 8, 2020

President Trump on Saturday announced multiple executive actions intended to extend economic aid, as Congress remains in a stalemate over the next coronavirus relief package. The measures will likely face legal challenges, however, as Trump attempts to bypass the legislative policy-making process.

The president said during a press conference at his golf club in Bedminister, New Jersey, that, via executive order, he would unilaterally renew expanded unemployment benefits, hold off student loan payments, and extend a moratorium on evictions. Additionally, Trump said the action authorizes the Treasury Department to defer payroll taxes for Americans making less than $100,000 per year. He suggested he may extend the deferral if he's re-elected in November and ultimately terminate the tax, although his stance on the matter is at odds with both parties in Congress.

The extended unemployment boost under Trump's order would have an additional $400/week go to individuals who lost their job because of the pandemic, landing between the previous $600/week figure and the $200/week plan discussed by Republicans lawmakers.

Trump did not participate directly in negotiations with congressional leaders in recent days, according to The Associated Press, and, in addition to the legal ambiguity, "Trump's embrace of executive actions to sidestep Congress runs in sharp contrast to his criticism of former President Barack Obama's use of executive orders on a more limited basis."

Read more at Bloomberg and The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

August 3, 2020

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin doubled down on their clashing coronavirus relief packages ahead of fresh Monday talks. Pelosi repeated Democrats' calls to renew the $600 per week in extra jobless benefits that expired Friday, although she said the sum could be reduced as unemployment falls. Pelosi said Democrats were "unified" behind the $600 figure, but that Republicans are in "disarray." Senate Republicans have proposed lowering the figure to $200 per week.

Mnuchin said in an interview on ABC's This Week that Republicans had suggested a one-week extension of the $600 during negotiations, but ultimately payments "should be tied to some percentage of wages, the fact that we had a flat number was only an issue of an emergency." Harold Maass

August 1, 2020

Congress ended the week in a deadlock after days of negotiating the next iteration of the CARES coronavirus relief bill, allowing the $600/week unemployment boost to expire without a replacement plan in place. As a result, nearly 30 million U.S. workers will now have a lapse in their unemployment benefits. But talks continued on Saturday, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) sitting down for several hours with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

There's still nothing imminent, but the four negotiators did suggest there was a little more movement Saturday, with Schumer calling it the most productive meeting yet. "Now each side knows where they're at," he said.

Work will continue Sunday with staff only meetings, and Pelosi, Schumer, Mnuchin, and Meadows will meet again on Monday. Tim O'Donnell

July 26, 2020

Several top members of the Trump administration hit the morning shows on Sunday to discuss a new stimulus bill being finalized by White House officials and Senate Republicans, due to be unveiled on Monday.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on CNN's State of the Union that the bill would provide for a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks, retention bonuses, and tax credits for small businesses and restaurants. He also said it will extend the federal eviction moratorium that expired on Friday.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government has been supplementing state unemployment benefits by giving workers $600 per week. This is set to expire next week, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said on ABC's This Week the new bill will not include this benefit, as President Trump and Senate Republicans saw it as people getting "paid to stay home." Under the proposed bill, he said, unemployment insurance will cover 70 percent of a laid-off worker's pre-pandemic wages.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on CBS's Face the Nation that calculating this percentage will be difficult for unemployment administrators, which is why a flat rate of $600 was introduced in the earlier coronavirus relief package. "Let me just say, the reason we had $600 was its simplicity," Pelosi said. "Why don't we just keep it simple? Unemployment benefits and the enhancement ... is so essential right now."

In May, House Democrats passed a $3 trillion relief package that called for additional direct $1,200 payments to taxpayers, rental assistance, and mortgage relief, and extended the $600 unemployment benefit. Catherine Garcia

July 1, 2020

The House on Wednesday passed a bill extending the Paycheck Protection Program.

The extension was approved Tuesday evening in the Senate by unanimous consent, just a few hours before the program was scheduled to end. It gives the Small Business Administration the authority to continue approving Paycheck Protection Program loans through Aug. 8.

Nearly 4.9 million loans worth $520.6 billion have been approved so far, with more than $130 billion left unspent. As part of coronavirus relief efforts, the loans can be turned into grants. The bill now heads to President Trump's desk for his signature. Catherine Garcia

June 10, 2020

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testified Wednesday before the Senate Small Business Committee, acknowledging that coronavirus-induced unemployment remains too high and that more measures should be deployed to quicken economic recovery.

"We're open-minded, but we absolutely believe small businesses — and by the way, many big businesses in certain industries — are absolutely going to need more help," he said.

Mnuchin added that while he was "pleasantly surprised" the previously passed $670 billion Paycheck Protection Program helped tether people to their jobs and stymie long-term unemployment, more bipartisan legislation will be needed to inject money into the economy.

From the secretary's perspective, the next stage should look a little different, however. Whereas the PPP was passed quickly and was fairly flexible, if unclear, about which businesses could receive loans, Mnuchin wants to specifically target industries that are having the greatest trouble re-opening going forward. Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

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