The Covid Economy

Trump finally signs relief package, but millions may wait weeks for jobless benefits to kick in again

U.S. President Donald Trump departs on the South Lawn of the White House, on December 12, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Al Drago | Getty Images News | Getty Images

President Donald Trump signed another coronavirus relief bill into law after almost a week of suggesting he would veto it. And while the bill, which Trump called a "disgrace," extends unemployment benefits for millions into 2021, his five-day hesitation to sign it may cost those people a week of benefits, unemployment experts say, and millions more an extra $300 from the federal government.

The $900 billion relief bill, signed by Trump on Sunday night, extends two key jobless programs — the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs — through March 14. It also resurrects enhanced unemployment benefits, adding $300 per week from the federal government to an individual's state benefits.

Had the bill been signed into law last week when Congress passed it, those collecting PUA and PEUC benefits would have been eligible to start receiving them for last week. But jobless benefits cannot be paid for a week that began before the bill was signed. Because Trump did not sign until Sunday, workers may now receive the benefits for 10 weeks instead of 11.

Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., told CNBC Make It that had Trump signed the bill just one day earlier, "millions of unemployed Americans would have more money in their pockets that they dearly need."

"It was a terrible and costly stunt that achieved nothing but chaos and misery," says Beyer.

But it is possible that workers could receive back pay for the missing week, Michele Evermore, senior policy analyst for the National Employment Law Project, tells CNBC Make It. That will depend on how states, which pay out unemployment claims, are able to interpret language around their unemployment contracts with the Department of Labor, she says. There will be more federal guidance on that sometime this week.

Regardless of if workers end up receiving 11 weeks or 10 weeks of aid, people collecting PUA and PEUC will likely have to wait a few weeks for any payments to land in their bank accounts, Evermore says. There will "definitely be a delay in implementation because states have to figure this out and program that into their computers, and that will be difficult," she says. Each state operates its own unemployment system, so when workers actually receive the payments will vary depending on where they live.

In addition to the unemployment provisions, the new relief bill includes $600 stimulus checks for individuals and their children, designates $284 billion to aid small businesses and provides emergency rental assistance and food benefits.

Check out: Adult dependents are once again not eligible for stimulus checks

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Correction: An earlier version misstated Trump's position regarding a possible veto of the relief bill. He suggested he would do so.