WASHINGTON, D.C. — After threatening to blow up a deal to provide relief to struggling Americans, President Donald Trump on Sunday signed a major coronavirus stimulus package along with an annual spending bill.
The move avoids a government shutdown before a Monday night deadline.
“I applaud President Trump’s decision to get hundreds of billions of dollars of crucial COVID-19 relief out the door and into the hands of American families as quickly as possible,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Trump this week sent legislators scrambling to find a solution after he blindsided Congress with an unexpected demand for $2,000 checks for Americans to be included in the $900 billion coronavirus relief bill. Trump also criticized the bill for “wasteful spending.”
“$2000 + $2000 plus other family members,” Trump tweeted on Dec. 26. “Not $600. Remember, it was China’s fault!”
Democrats are on board with upping the direct payments, which were previously set at $600, but the president’s announcement left him at odds with his own party. On Dec. 24, House Republicans blocked the House Democrats’ unanimous consent request to increase the checks to $2,000.
The House is expected to vote Monday on boosting direct payments to $2,000.
“If the president is serious about the $2,000 direct payments, he must call on House Republicans to end their obstruction,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said. “House and Senate Democrats have repeatedly fought for bigger checks for the American people, which House and Senate Republicans have repeatedly rejected.”
Republicans and Democrats clashed for several months before ultimately passing a package Dec. 21 that would provide $600 checks to individuals and a weekly $300 supplement for those on unemployment. It would also allocate $330 billion for small businesses, as well as provide funding for food and housing assistance and vaccine distributions.
Despite his administration negotiating the deal, Trump spent the weekend attacking the $900 billion coronavirus relief bill, demanding $2,000 checks and cutting out foreign aid. The president’s unexpected demands came as many unemployment programs expired over the weekend. Stimulus checks expected to reach people this week could now be delayed.
That possibility has left many fearful for the future. The relief bill is desperately needed as COVID-19 is surging nationwide, and millions of Americans are struggling with unemployment, food insecurity or looming evictions.
California has been hit especially hard in recent weeks, with new lockdowns being implemented as coronavirus cases soar across the state and hospitals struggle with a shortage of ICU beds.
On Dec. 24, the Employment Development Department cautioned Californians that Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation will end without legislative action.
“If Congress and the president do not extend the PEUC and PUA programs, both programs will end on Dec. 31, with the last payable week for these benefits ending on Dec. 26. If these programs were to expire, claimants would not be able to continue to certify for them,” the agency said.
The ECC previously reported that claims for various unemployment benefits in the first week of December hit 341,813, which is 600% higher than the same time last year.
In Santa Clara County, cases of COVID-19 are continuing to spike. The rolling average of new coronavirus cases hit an all-time high of 1,202 on Dec. 24, according to the Santa Clara County Public Health Department. The county’s cumulative COVID-19 death toll stood at 643.
In the South Bay, community leaders, housing advocates and nonprofit leaders said the stimulus bill is too little, too late. That’s with or without Trump’s insistence on increasing the one-time payments.
“The federal government has failed to respond to the needs of lowest-income communities of color during this pandemic,” said Jennifer Loving, executive director of Destination: Home in San Jose. “Families do not have money to buy food. They cannot pay their rent. The toll this is taking is indescribably cruel.”
Loving said South Bay families have been ravaged both economically and physically by COVID-19.
“We all must work together to mitigate this suffering,” she said. “We need everyone doing their part, including delivering robust federal aid that demonstrates an understanding of the inequities of this virus — and our national failure to equitably respond so far.”
Greg Kepferle, CEO of Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, said his organization has been lobbying on a national level to expand what the package has to offer, particularly in terms of cash assistance, housing aid and increased funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
As for the $600 stimulus checks Congress approved, Kepferle said it won’t go far — especially in Silicon Valley.
“We really need to think about it as disaster relief, and not as stimulus, because it’s about responding to the pandemic, which is a natural disaster,” Kepferle said. “It helps, but it’s not sufficient. It should have been done months ago and it needs to be a lot more. Families here are just struggling incredibly.”
The stimulus checks and extra weekly unemployment insurance get spread incredibly thin in places like Silicon Valley, Kepferle said, where the cost-of-living is much higher. And time is running out to help those most at risk.
There were also some very valuable additions to this round of relief, Kepferle said, including several billion dollars for broadband infrastructure to help connect students who are distance learning, as well allowing mixed-immigration status families to collect stimulus checks.
“That is a really helpful move to recognize the pandemic doesn’t care what nationality or party that you are,” he said. “We’ve got to unite in this fight.”
Contact Katie King at [email protected] or follow @KatieKingCST on Twitter.
Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.
Editor’s Note: Jennifer Loving, executive director of Destination: Home, serves on San José Spotlight’s Board of Directors.