• The Star Staff

Would the local gov’t be able to pay a portion of the weekly $400 in jobless benefits?

By The Star Staff

After Democratic lawmakers and the White House were unable to reach an agreement on a pandemic economic stimulus bill, President Donald Trump signed four executive orders Saturday for coronavirus relief, one of which will provide as much as $400 in additional unemployment benefits, 25 percent of which states, including Puerto Rico, are being asked to cover.

The other three executive orders the president signed include a memorandum on a payroll tax holiday for Americans earning less than $100,000 a year, an executive order on assistance to renters and homeowners and a memorandum on deferring student loan payments until Dec. 31.

“I’m taking action to provide an additional or extra $400 a week and expanded benefits, $400. That’s generous but we want to take care of our people,” Trump said about the unemployment benefits as quoted by several media outlets.

The order, which covers states and territories as well as the District of Columbia, which must agree to enter into a financial arrangement with the federal government for any unemployed person living there to receive any of the additional benefits. States must pick up the tab for 25 percent of the $400 additional benefit each person may be able to receive weekly in additional aid.

Trump is seeking to set aside $44 billion in previously approved disaster aid to help states, but said it would be up to states to determine how much, if any of it, to fund, so the benefits could be smaller still.

Part of the executive order reads as follows:

“To provide financial assistance for the needs of those who have lost employment as a result of the pandemic, I am directing up to $44 billion from the DRF (Disaster Recovery Funds) at the statutorily mandated 75 percent Federal cost share be made available for lost wages assistance to eligible claimants, to supplement State expenditures in providing these payments. At least $25 billion of total DRF balances will be set aside to support ongoing disaster response and recovery efforts and potential 2020 major disaster costs,” the president said. “I am calling on States to use amounts allocated to them out of the CRF (Coronavirus Relief Fund), or other State funding, to provide temporary enhanced financial support to those whose jobs or wages have been adversely affected by COVID-19. These funds, including those currently used to support State unemployment insurance programs, may be applied as the State’s cost share with Federal DRF funds. To ensure that those affected by a loss in wages due to COVID-19 continue to receive supplemental benefits for weeks of unemployment ending no later than December 27, 2020, States should also identify funds to be spent without a Federal match should the total DRF balance deplete to $25 billion.”

It is not clear if Puerto Rico will be able to comply. Puerto Rico’s government bank accounts totaled $20.4 billion as of June 30, a 0.4 percent decrease over the balance on May 29.

Regarding the help to renters, the executive order says the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act imposed a temporary moratorium on evictions of certain renters subject to certain conditions. The moratorium expired, and there is a significant risk that this will set off an abnormally large wave of evictions.

“With the failure of the Congress to act, my Administration must do all that it can to help vulnerable populations stay in their homes in the midst of this pandemic,” the president’s order reads. “Those who are dislocated from their homes may be unable to shelter in place and may have more difficulty maintaining a routine of social distancing. They will have to find alternative living arrangements, which may include a homeless shelter or a crowded family home and may also require traveling to other States.”

In addition, evictions tend to disproportionately affect minorities, particularly African Americans and Latinos, he said. “Accordingly, my Administration, to the extent reasonably necessary to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, will take all lawful measures to prevent residential evictions and foreclosures resulting from financial hardships caused by COVID-19,” the order reads.

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