FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — Whether President Donald Trump has the constitutional authority to extend federal unemployment benefits by executive order remains unclear. Equally up in the air is whether states, which are necessary partners in Trump’s plan to bypass Congress, will sign on.
Trump announced an executive order Saturday that extends additional unemployment payments of $400 a week to help cushion the economic fallout of the pandemic. Congress had approved payments of $600 a week at the outset of the coronavirus outbreak, but those benefits expired Aug. 1 and Congress has been unable to agree on an extension. Many Republicans have expressed concern that a $600 weekly benefit, on top of existing state benefits, gives people an incentive to stay unemployed.
But under Trump’s plan, the $400 a week requires a state to commit to providing $100.
Many states are already facing budget crunches caused by the pandemic. Asked at a news conference how many governors had signed on to participate, Trump answered: “If they don’t, they don’t. That’s up to them.”
Trump expressed a different view on Sunday night, following a day of state officials questioning how they could afford even $100 per person in additional weekly payments. He told reporters as he returned to Washington that states could make application to have the federal government provide all or part of the $400 payments. Decisions would be made state by state, he said.
Several state officials questioned how Trump’s initial proposal would work and often expressed doubt that they could afford to participate at the level Trump initially set without using federal funds.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” that he’s not yet sure if his state will take the federal money for unemployment. But he thanked Trump for trying to do something.
“The President had a difficult situation,” said DeWine, a Republican. “He’s got a blunt instrument. And that’s the executive order. He’s trying to do something. He’s trying to move the ball forward.”
But DeWine said Congressional negotiations should begin again.
In Maryland, Michael Ricci, spokesman for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, said in an email that “we will wait on new guidance from US Department of Labor before looking at any (unemployment insurance) changes.”
In Minnesota, Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said his agency is “awaiting further guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor.”
Kevin Hensil, a spokesman for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, said “reducing the benefit by a third will make it harder for families to get by and it places a larger financial burden on states.” He said state officials are studying the impact of the cuts.
In Louisiana, Christina Stephens, a spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards said “Right now we are reviewing the President’s order to determine exactly what the impact to the state would be.”
And in Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a press release that Trump “cut federal funding for unemployed workers and is requiring states that are facing severe holes in our budgets to provide 25% of the funding.”
On ABC”s “This Week,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called it “an unworkable plan.
“Most states will take months to implement it, because it’s brand new. It’s sort of put together with spit and paste. And many states, because they have to chip in $100, and they don’t have money, won’t do it,” Schumer said.
Many states struggled to adjust outdated computer systems to accommodate the $600 payment, which along with the massive influx of new claims resulted in long delays in providing benefits. Reprogramming the computers again to accommodate the new amount could result in similar glitches.
On ABC, Kudlow said that many of those outdated systems have since been upgraded.
“I don’t think there will be a huge delay. Labor Department has been working with the states. The states are the ones that process the federal benefits before. So, I don’t see any reason why it would be all that difficult,” he said.
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