WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Unemployment benefits for millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet were set to lapse at midnight Saturday unless President Donald Trump signed an end-of-year COVID relief and spending bill that had been considered a done deal before his sudden objections.
Trump's refusal to sign the bipartisan package as he demands larger COVID relief checks and complains about “pork” spending could also force a federal government shutdown when money runs out at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday in the middle of a pandemic.
“It’s a chess game and we are pawns,” said Lanetris Haines, a self-employed single mother of three in South Bend, Indiana, who stands to lose her $129 weekly jobless benefit unless Trump signs the package into law or succeeds in his improbable quest for changes.
Washington has been reeling since Trump threw the package into limbo after it had already won sweeping approval in both houses of Congress and after the White House assured Republican leaders that Trump would support it.
Instead, he has assailed the bill's plan to provide $600 COVID relief checks to most Americans — insisting it should be $2,000. House Republicans swiftly rejected that idea during a rare Christmas Eve session. But 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," Trump tweeted Saturday from Palm Beach, Florida, where he is spending the holiday. “Also, stop the billions of dollars in ‘pork.’”
President-elect Joe Biden called on Trump to sign the bill immediately as two federal programs providing unemployment aid were set to expire 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," Biden said in a statement. He accused Trump of an “abdication of responsibility” that has “devastating consequences."