Fun With Unemployment Money, Trump-Style!
Margaret Bourke-White, 1937. Public domain photo.

After Republicans decided it didn't make any sense to actually spend money to keep the economy afloat and walked away from negotiations on a stimulus deal Friday, Donald Trump announced several great big executive orders to make it seem like he was doing something. Sure, the orders' legality may be dubious, but he's pretending to do something, which is more than either side in Congress has done. Like how Democrats did nothing by passing a pretty comprehensive stimmy bill in May, and Republicans only started talking among themselves three weeks ago, as key parts of the CARES Act were about to expire. Both sides!

Thank Crom Trump jumped in to "save" the emergency unemployment benefit, with a plan that states are already saying will be nearly impossible to make work any time soon, if at all. The weekly emergency unemployment benefit would be slashed from $600 to $400, and to qualify for the funds at all, states would have to kick in a quarter of the money themselves. Gosh, doesn't that seem fair? Except for how states have lost revenue due to the coronavirus recession, and don't have the money. Guess they should have thought of that before letting a pandemic run wild, huh?

The bipartisan National Governors Association issued a statement Monday saying Trump's plan was unworkable, and calling on Congress to reach a deal ASAP. And we do mean bipartisan; the statement was written by NGA chair Andrew Cuomo (D-New York) and vice chair Asa Hutchinson (R-Arkansas).

In their statement, the governors pointed to "significant administrative burdens and costs" associated with attempting to implement a new plan Trump announced over the weekend [...]

"The best way forward is for the Congress and the administration to get back to the negotiating table and come up with a workable solution," the pair wrote.

Trump's plan would cover at most five or six weeks of the diminished unemployment benefit by reallocating $44 billion in funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund, which even if it's legal (that's very doubtful) seems like a really smart move in the middle of hurricane season. It's not like we could have any more disasters in 2020, after all.

The Trump plan also couldn't possibly be one more effort to blame states for his administration's problems. If only the states would pay their share! Too bad, it's your governor's fault, please vote for Republicans to make everything better.

The administration insists states should have plenty of money to spend, left over from the CARES Act's $150 billion in federal coronavirus support to state and local governments. But governors have pointed out that they've kind of already used or allocated that aid for frivolous things like emergency workers, hospitals, protective equipment for healthcare workers, and the like. And unlike the federal government, 40 states have balanced budget laws that would prevent them from borrowing funds.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said that coming up with a quarter of even the reduced unemployment benefit would cost the state $700 million a week, and that the state has already allocated 75 percent of its earlier federal stimmy funds. "There is no money sitting in the piggy bank. [...] It simply does not exist."

Wingnuts are grousing that Newsom shoulda thought of that before setting up one-time payments to undocumented immigrants who aren't even Americans, Ha-Ha-Ha! That program cost the state $75 million, so Newsom probably could have stretched it out to $700 million a week for five weeks, easy.

The AP points out that even if the FEMA money can get to states and the states somehow found funds for their share, the logistics of the scheme would still mean no unemployed workers would be seeing the funds anytime soon.

Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation and an expert on unemployment aid, said that it could take several weeks for jobless claimants to see the enhanced benefit given the states' difficulties in updating their unemployment systems.

"No one's getting a payment from this in August. If they're lucky, they'll get it in September," he said.

Dan Tierney, a spokesperson for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, agreed, noting that it could take weeks just to make sense of how the federal Department of Labor guidance for the short-term benefit is supposed to work, and the state would have to reprogram its computers to distribute the funds.

The Washington Postreports that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin initially said most states could put the new system in place "immediately," but then revised that to "within the next week or two." The AP says that in a call with governors Monday, Mnuchin also promised that if states have to move around existing allocations to buy an unemployment hamburger right now, the administration would gladly repay them Tuesday. Or whenever it can get a new stimmy bill passed by convincing Republicans to include the funds.

"We realize that some of you want to use those funds for other things," said Mnuchin, according to audio of the call obtained by The Associated Press. "And as part of legislation, if you do use those funds for UI, we will agree to make you whole."

Well heck, a promise from the Trump administration is certainly something states can rely on!

The Post also says unnamed administration officials "have suggested that the matching requirement could be waived," which, if it's real at all, undoubtedly means California would have to come up with $100 per recipient per week, but Florida and Texas would not.

In conclusion, please call your elected representatives and politely yell at them, if you could. And while you're at it tell them you'd really prefer a working Postal Service, 'kay?

[WaPo / AP/US News / Vox]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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