Millions of Americans’ benefits expire as golfing Trump lets COVID relief bill go unsigned

US News

Millions of Americans’ unemployment benefits have expired after the president refused to sign a $2.3trn COVID-19 relief and spending bill.

Donald Trump, who is spending Christmas golfing at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, said the package did not do enough for everyday people.

The bill sought to provide $892bn in coronavirus relief, including the extension of special unemployment benefits that were due to expire on Saturday, and $1.4trn for usual government spending.

Without Mr Trump’s signature, a partial government shutdown will begin on Tuesday, and an estimated 12 million people will lose their unemployment benefits, according to the Labor Department.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, makes a fist as he prepares to board Marine One to depart from the White House for holiday travel to his home in Florida, in Washington, U.S., December 23, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
Mr Trump left Washington after demanding the end-of-year spending bill should be amended

While the shutdown can still be avoided if Congress is able to agree on stop-gap funding before then, the loss of unemployment benefits will be a devastating blow to millions struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also expiring as a result of the bill going unsigned are eviction protections for those who have been left unable to pay rent because of losses to their income.

The relief package had been agreed to by Republicans and Democrats last weekend after several months of bitter dispute between the two sides, and it also had the support of the White House – including assurance that Mr Trump personally backed the plan.

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Mr Trump did not dispute it prior to Congress putting the bill through on Monday night, but has since complained it gives too much money to cultural projects, foreign aid, and special interests.

He also demanded the end-of-year spending bill should provide Americans with $2,000 COVID-19 relief cheques as opposed to the planned $600, which other Republicans had agreed to.

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‘The bare minimum’: Trump criticises coronavirus relief package

The bill arrived in Florida on Thursday, but Mr Trump has offered no indication that he will sign it.

The White House has refused to share details of Mr Trump’s itinerary – only saying that he “will continue to work tirelessly for the American people” and that “his schedule includes many meetings and calls”.

On Friday, Mr Trump tweeted: “Made many calls and had meetings at Trump International in Palm Beach, Florida. Why would politicians not want to give people $2000, rather than only $600?

“It wasn’t their fault, it was China. Give our people the money!”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Mr Trump is still keen on changes being made to the bill before he signs it, tweeting that the president is “more determined than ever to increase stimulus payments to $2000 per person”.

He described the demand as “reasonable”, adding: “The biggest winner would be the American people.”

It has been suggested that Mr Trump’s decision to attack the COVID-19 bill is a political punishment for what he considered to be a lack of backing by congressional Republicans of his bitter campaign to overturn last month’s presidential election results, citing unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.

Lindsey Graham has refused to be tested for coronavirus
Lindsey Graham has said the president is still keen on changes being made to the bill

Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi and treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin have been trying to prevent a government shutdown by salvaging the legislation.

Democrats will call House lawmakers to Washington on Monday to vote on Mr Trump’s $2,000 proposal.

A vote on a stop-gap measure to avoid a government shutdown is also being considered for Monday, to allow the government to keep running until Joe Biden is inaugurated on 20 January.

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