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Jobless to get weekly aid despite Trump's last-minute approval, US says

·3-min read
The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank has distributed at least 145 million pounds of food since the Covid-19 pandemic started

Jobless Americans who risked not receiving unemployment aid this week due to President Donald Trump's delay in signing off on it will indeed receive the money, the Labor Department said on Tuesday.

Congress in March expanded the US unemployment safety net as the coronavirus pandemic struck, creating the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) for freelancers and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) for the long-term unemployed but only funding them until the end of the year.

After months of stuttering negotiations, Congress agreed to reauthorize those programs in a $900 billion spending package passed only days before their December 26 expiration, but Trump objected to its contents before eventually signing it on Sunday -- one day after those programs lapsed.

Because many states determine benefit payments for the week ahead on Sunday morning, experts feared Trump's evening signing of the bill could mean benefits under the two programs wouldn't be paid this week.

In a statement to AFP, a Labor Department spokesperson said it would work with individual states to make sure payments under the programs, which were reauthorized until March 14, continue uninterrupted.

"As states are implementing these new provisions as quickly as possible, the department does not anticipate that eligible claimants will miss a week of benefits due to the timing of the law's enactment," the spokesperson said.

An interruption in weekly jobless payments would have increased the pressure on Americans put out of work by the world's largest Covid-19 outbreak.

The United States saw unemployment spike to 14.7 percent in April after business shutdowns were ordered to stop the virus from spreading.

Though it decreased to 6.7 percent in November, Labor Department data released last week said more than 800,000 people on average are losing their jobs each week, a level above the worst single week of the 2008-2010 global financial crisis.

As of the week ended December 5, the Labor Department said more than 9.2 million people were receiving PUA benefits and more than 4.8 million were receiving PEUC.

- Stimulus payments -

Meanwhile, American workers could start seeing stimulus payments of as much as $600 in their accounts as soon as Tuesday night, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

"Treasury and the IRS are working with unprecedented speed to issue a second round of Economic Impact Payments to eligible Americans and their families," Mnuchin said.

"These payments are an integral part of our commitment to providing vital additional economic relief to the American people during this unprecedented time."

On Twitter, he added that for those not receiving electronic payment, "paper checks will begin to be mailed tomorrow."

The stimulus bill set aside $166 billion to provide cash for families to help weather the pandemic, but Trump blasted the amount and demanded it be increased to $2,000.

Democrats agreed, and the House of Representatives approved a bill to do that, but Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked the measure, refusing to allow a vote.

"Unless Republicans have a death wish, and it is also the right thing to do, they must approve the $2000 payments ASAP," Trump said. "$600 IS NOT ENOUGH!"