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Biden urges Trump to sign COVID-19 relief bill to save unemployment benefits

Biden urges Trump to sign COVID-19 relief bill to save unemployment benefits
President Donald J. Trump has been playing golf amid uncertainty over whether he will sign the $900 billion coronavirus relief bill. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 26 (UPI) -- President-Elect Joe Biden urged President Donald Trump Saturday to sign a pandemic relief package to save unemployment benefits.

Unemployment benefits for 14 million people out of work amid the pandemic are set to lapse Saturday.

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Congress approved Monday a $900 billion COVID-19 pandemic relief bill in its $2.3 trillion funding package. In the bill was a plan to extend unemployment benefits to 14 million people using two pandemic unemployment programs until mid-March. As unemployment benefits run out Saturday, it's still unclear if Trump will sign the bill and his delay makes at least a temporary lapse in expanding unemployment benefits unavoidable, The New York Times reported.

Michele Evermore of the National Employment Law Project said that if Trump does sign the bill into law Saturday, unemployed workers will be able to still claim benefits, but states will need time to reprogram computer systems to account for the new law.

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"It's 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 Saturday.

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"This abdication of responsibility has devastating consequences," he added, referring to millions who will lose unemployment insurance benefits.

Since states cannot payout benefits for weeks that begin before the bill is signed, if Trump doesn't sign the bill Saturday, benefits will not restart until the first week of January, but will still end in mid-March.

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Along with the enhanced federal unemployment benefits, the $900 billion pandemic relief package also includes stimulus payments for individuals of $600 to $700; more than $80 billion for schools; $330 billion for small business loans and several billions of dollars to cover costs of distributing COVID-19 vaccines.

Democrats also announced that the relief bill also included, among other items, $25 billion in rental assistance for families and extension of a moratorium on evictions otherwise set to expire at the end of the year and $13 billion in increased food stamp and child nutrition benefits "to help relieve the historic hunger crisis that has left up to 17 million children food insecure."

On Saturday, Trump complained about the relief package on Twitter.

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"I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill," Trump tweeted. "Also, stop the billions of dollars in 'pork."

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On Tuesday, Trump had denounced the package in a video message, saying Congress should raise the individual stimulus to $2,000 per person and $4,000 per couple, and that he might not sign it, calling it "a disgrace," overly long, and filled with unnecessary and "wasteful" spending.

White House officials sent the 5,000-page legislation to Mar-a-Lago club, Trump's private club in Palm Beach, Fla., on Christmas Eve, and Trump spent the next day playing golf and said he made many calls.

On Christmas Day, while playing golf with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Trump similarly complained again about spending in the COVID-19 stimulus bill, calling it "pork."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, R-Calif., said that she would put pressure on Republicans Monday who oppose the $2,000 in direct payments to approve them by holding a roll call vote.

Congress will also need to pass another stopgap measure to avoid a government shutdown Tuesday.

Biden also referred in his statement to other government funding that could be placed in jeopardy if Trump failing to sign the economic relief bill leads to government shutdown, such as housing and military paychecks.

"In just a few days, government funding will expire, putting vital services and paychecks for military personnel at risk," Biden said. "In less than a week, a moratorium on evictions expires, putting millions at risk of being forced from their homes over the holidays."

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"This bill is critical. It needs to be signed into law now," he added. "But it is also a first step and down payment on more action that we'll need to take early in the new year to revive the economy and contain the pandemic -- including meeting the dire need for funding to distribute and administer the vaccine and to increase our testing capacity."

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