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Impasse on coronavirus relief bill deepens as benefits start to run out

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks at her weekly press conference on July 31, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Republicans and Democrats have so far failed to reach an agreement on an economic aid package.

MICHAEL BROCHSTEIN, SIPA USA/TNS

By SARAH D. WIRE AND CHRIS MEGERIAN | Los Angeles Times | Published: July 31, 2020

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WASHINGTON — The $600 federal unemployment subsidy and the national eviction moratorium on some properties will expire Friday after Democrats and Republicans failed to reach an agreement on an economic aid package meant to deal with the growing surge of COVID-19.

The deadline was set in the last major economic package approved by Congress in March, and the House passed an extension in May. But serious attempts to negotiate a deal did not begin until this week when Senate Republicans put forward a counterproposal.

That proposal by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was quickly rejected by some within his own party, with President Donald Trump calling it “semi-irrelevent” in terms of negotiations with Democrats.

Millions of unemployed Americans are relying on the federal aid, which is in addition to state unemployment benefits, to pay rent, buy groceries and stay afloat as the economy shudders with the widespread drop in consumer spending tied to the coronavirus.

Congress might make payments retroactive once a deal is reached, but at minimum the delay is expected to cause anxiety for millions of Americans.

Days of closed-door negotiations between House and Senate Democratic leaders and the Trump administration resulted in frustration and finger-pointing Friday in dueling news conferences, but no resolution in sight.

“We weren’t bickering. We were having major policy disagreements,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters. “We don’t have shared values, that’s just the way it is. It’s not bickering, it’s standing our ground.”

“The Democrats are certainly willing today to allow some of the American citizens who are struggling the most under this pandemic to go unprotected,” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters in a separate news conference. “What we’re seeing is politics as usual from Democrats on Capitol Hill.”

“The Democrats believe that they have all the cards on their side, and they’re willing to play those cards at the expense of those that are hurting.”

Major differences between the House and Senate proposals remain, including whether to provide more money for SNAP food stamp benefits and help for struggling state governments.

Other disputes include whether businesses and schools would be protected from liability if customers and employees get sick and who should receive another $1,200 direct check from the government. Even the scope of the bill is up in the air, with Republicans saying a maximum of $1 trillion is necessary, and Democrats proposing north of $3 trillion.

With chances of a quick compromise dimming, Republicans have proposed a short-term extension for some unemployment benefits. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin told reporters after a lengthy meeting Thursday with Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., that he and Meadows offered Democrats several short-term proposals to extend benefits while negotiations over a large, more complex bill continue, but were rejected.

“I think the Democrats are willing to allow the enhanced unemployment to expire, they’ve made that very clear, not once, not twice, but three times, and so I’m not very optimistic on anybody who’s counting on enhanced unemployment to have any relief anytime soon,” he said.

Pelosi said that the negotiations are so far apart that a one-week extension wasn’t worthwhile.

“What is a one-week extension good for? A one-week extension is good if you have a bill and you’re working it out — the details, the writing of it,” she told reporters late Thursday. “It’s worthless unless you are using it for this purpose.”

In most states, including California, the benefits stopped July 25 because most state unemployment systems operate on a weekly basis and couldn’t extend the benefit into the final, partial week of July.

Pelosi, Schumer, Mnuchin and Meadows are expected to continue meeting over the weekend.

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