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Treasury, White House face enormous pressure to quickly disburse stimulus aid after Trump’s delay – The Washington Post

Treasury, White House face enormous pressure to quickly disburse stimulus aid after Trump’s delay – The Washington Post

President Trump’s decision to sign a $900 billion coronavirus aid package after days of delay sent Washington into a scramble on Monday, as the administration once again faced a race to disburse a massive amount of money to workers and businesses still struggling in the midst of the pandemic.

The Treasury Department and other federal agencies did not reveal specific timelines for when stimulus checks, small business aid, and unemployment benefits would be released, and it’s unclear how much Trump’s decision to drag out the process has impacted their work.

The task is a gargantuan one for the U.S. government, which on Sunday had been bracing for the prospect of an abrupt shutdown. The administration must process new, one-time $600 checks for most Americans, extend fresh unemployment aid to millions of people who risked losing their benefits, and inject another round of cash into small businesses’ struggling bottom lines.

The goal is to deliver a wide array of new financial assistance quickly enough to avert a further dip in an already battered U.S. economy. But the process of implementing these programs — together marking one of the largest relief packages in U.S. history — already has been beset by delays. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin initially promised the government could begin dispatching stimulus checks to families during this week, only to have the timeline potentially upended by Trump, who initially refused to sign the $900 billion proposal in an attempt to secure last-minute changes that his own party did not even support.

Now, those checks may not reach most Americans’ bank accounts until early 2021, congressional aides fear, adding to the burden on families who are struggling to pay their bills after months of congressional inaction. Those who are out of a job — and have exhausted their unemployment benefits — also may experience significant disruptions as a result of the White House’s recent handling of the stimulus.

“While it’s a huge relief that the bill is being signed, Donald Trump’s tantrum has created unnecessary hardship and stress for millions of families,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a statement late Sunday.

The Treasury Department did not respond to a request for comment. The Labor Department, which plays a central role in the government’s unemployment-insurance system, also did not immediately respond to a request.

The uncertainty about the programs reflects the urgent circumstances of the country’s recent economic decline. Many labor groups, businesses and state and local governments had pleaded with Congress and the White House since the summer to strike a deal on a new stimulus. Programs authorized under the government’s last relief package, the $2 trillion Cares Act, began to expire in July.

Now, the process of doling out roughly $900 billion in long-sought aid is set to start in the final days of the Trump administration, right as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to enter the White House. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are all vacationing this week, though a Treasury Department spokesperson said Mnuchin and Trump have been in contact.

In addition to the emergency relief funds, the newly enacted law directs the government to appropriate $20 billion for coronavirus testing, for example, and $8 billion for vaccine distribution. It allocates $13 billion in fresh money to help families afford food, and $10 billion to help parents cover the cost of childcare. There is new aid to boost arts programs and expand the availability of high-speed internet access. And lawmakers set aside billions more to ensure families can stay in their homes — and transit agencies could literally keep the trains running on time.

Even the mere availability of relief already appeared to offer the economy a slight jolt Monday, as Southwest Airlines announced it would not need to slash its workforce and reduce its wages after Trump opted to sign the stimulus package. The Dow Jones industrial average, meanwhile, was up nearly 200 points in midday trading as investors cheered the prospect of stimulus-aided economic growth.

But the president’s delay in signing a law still raised the prospect that it could be a little longer before some of the money actually reached those that need it most.

The new stimulus offers critical help to roughly 14 million Americans, for example, who have exhausted their unemployment benefits. But it may take weeks for state agencies to implement the new policy — and boost other jobless workers’ pay — leaving some workers facing the real prospect that they will not receive their checks for an extended period.

“Every day this went without signing, states couldn’t put any implementation language into their computer systems,” said Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst for the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for unemployed workers.

Workers eventually will receive most back-due benefits that they were eligible to claim once their states’ systems are up and running. But Trump’s refusal to sign the stimulus law before Sunday has raised the possibility that millions of Americans essentially may lose a week of pay for the period starting on December 27, since the $900 billion stimulus could not take effect in time. Advocates have urged the Labor Department to interpret the law in a way that pays millions of Americans who may experience a gap, but the agency has not commented on its plans. Wyden on Monday also urged Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia to “do all he can to prevent these Americans from losing a week of income.”

“There’s tremendous confusion,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at ZipRecruiter. “No one knows when the checks are going to go out. We have not received guidance from the Department of Labor.”

“We still are at risk of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, of undoing the good things we did at first,” added Pollak, who said it’s already too late for many businesses that have been forced to close. But with widespread vaccine distribution in sight, government officials “have an obligation to prevent these temporary disruptions in earnings from becoming a permanent economic distraction.”

The sprawling stimulus package also includes more than $284 billion for new loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, and $20 billion for targeted grants through the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program. These programs are both run by the Small Business Administration. The money reprises two popular programs from the Cares Act and expands their eligibility, though federal officials conceded it may take some time before they can start accepting applications for aid.

The morning after Trump signed the legislation into law, there was little information about how still-struggling businesses could apply for new funding. Christopher Hatch, a spokesman for the Small Business Administration, said the SBA and Treasury were working to ensure “the next round of PPP is launched as quickly as possible.”

Along with Treasury, the SBA “is working expeditiously to identify changes to program rules forms, and processes as laid out in the legislative text, and to appropriately update guidance and systems for PPP lenders and borrowers,” Hatch said.

The PPP program has been widely credited with helping millions of businesses keep employees on the payroll in the pandemic’s earlier months. Yet the program’s spring launch was dogged with confusion over how borrowers could access loans, and the initial pot of funding ran dry in 13 days as large chains swooped in. Many smaller businesses were later forced to cut workers after their funds ran dry, even as national brands stayed afloat.

Published at Mon, 28 Dec 2020 17:46:00 +0000

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Written by Riel Roussopoulos

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