- After much confusion, the Department of Labor finally issued guidelines clarifying how President Trump’s executive action expanding unemployment benefits would be enacted and funded.
- While Trump said that he would provide $400 a week in benefits, his plan only provides $300 in federal funds, and states would be required to cover the other $100.
- Under Trump’s original memo, if a state did not agree to chip in $100, it would not be able to access the additional benefits. After bipartisan backlash, his administration agreed to give states the $300 without requiring the extra payout.
- But even after walking back that decision, there are still concerns as to whether states will opt-into the program because it has many legal and logistical problems.
Trump’s Unemployment Plan
The Department of Labor issued guidelines Wednesday for states to execute the $300 expansion of unemployment benefits President Donald Trump authorized in an executive memo Friday.
The move comes after days of confusion over the implementation and funding levels of the executive action.
In announcing the memo, Trump claimed that the move would give people an additional $400 a week on top of the benefits they receive at the state level. But there was a big catch: the federal government would only pay 75%, or $300, and states have to cover 25% by chipping in $100.
Under the initial plan Trump laid out, even just to get that $300 states would need to enter into a financial agreement with the federal government that says they will give people the $100 from their own funds.
However, many states have already tapped out their unemployment funds because of the millions of Americans who have filed for unemployment throughout the pandemic.
Governors from both parties expressed concern over the idea that states would have to agree to payout more from their already depleted funds to access the federal benefits, and because Trump’s memo allowed states to opt-in to receive the extra $300 but did not require them to do so, many worried that states would opt-out.
In the days following the announcement, the Trump administration seemed to walk back the plan to make it mandatory for states to pay the extra $100 to get the $300 in federal benefits. However, between Trump’s announcement and Tuesday, administration officials also offered five different contradictory versions of how the benefits would work.
The new DOL directive clears that up. Under the new guidelines, the agency says that states can either chip in the $100 or count the first $100 they already pay in state-level benefits.
While that does lower a significant barrier, it also means that unless states chipped in— and many would probably be unable to— their citizens would only get half of the $600 they had been receiving before.
Even without that barrier, there are still concerns that states will not want to opt-in to the extra $300 for a number of reasons.
States cannot legally use their existing unemployment systems to give out benefits that have not been authorized by Congress. As a result, Trump’s memo would require them to create and implement entirely new insurance disbursement programs from scratch to even be able to give out the benefits.
However, some states are struggling so much financially that they might not be able to do it at all, and even for the states that can financially implement new programs, experts have said that it could take weeks or even months for them to set up and implement those systems.
For many, that onerous and expensive process may not be worth it, especially because there are serious concerns about how Trump plans to fund the extra benefits.
In his memo, Trump calls for $44 billion of funding from the Department of Homeland Security’s Disaster Relief Fund— which is normally used for national disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires— to be shifted to unemployment.
Not only would that be pulling from natural disaster funds in the middle of what is expected to be a major hurricane season, at the current rate of unemployment, experts say that money would run out in about five or six weeks.
Additionally, opting-in to Trump’s program could also pose a risk for states because of two major legal issues with his plan.
First, the emergency fund that Trump is using to bankroll the executive action is one that is set aside by Congress. But Congress, not the president, has the power to allocate federal funds under the Constitution, so there are legal questions as to whether Trump can unilaterally divert that money.
“The basic notion here is the president is rejecting Congress’ power of the purse,” David Super, a constitutional law expert at Georgetown Law told the Washington Post. “That is something nobody who cares about separation of powers can let slide, even if they like what the money is being spent on.”
The second issue, as Super also explained to The Post, is that it is actually illegal for the Trump administration to waive the additional state contributions of $100 as a requisite for receiving the $300.
In fact, the 25% state funding match that was in Trump’s initial plan because it’s required under the law Trump cited to create this benefit program. What’s more, counting the first $100 states already payout in state-level benefits rather than requiring new spending to meet the state-match requirement also violates a federal rule outlined by the Office of Management and Budget.
Unemployment Claims Drop, But Indicators Worry Experts
The questionable legality and other underlying issues with Trump’s plan paired with the inability of Senate Democratic leaders and the White House to negotiate a coronavirus relief bill has left many worried about their livelihoods nearly two weeks after the $600 federal unemployment benefits expired.
On Thursday, the government reported that the number of people who filed for this week fell to under one million for the first time since March, with new unemployment claims clocking in at 963,000, down 228,000 from the week before.
While it is significant that new claims dipped after 20 consecutive weeks of being more than a million, like all good news during the pandemic, there is some nuance here.
First of all, the unemployment numbers that are reported every Thursday are not the full picture. They do not account for people who have exited the workforce entirely or independent contractors and self-employed workers who are not eligible for unemployment and are currently receiving benefits under a separate federal program.
This week, another 489,000 people applied for that program, and when those people are including the count, there are still over 1.4 million people who filed to receive some kind of unemployment benefits this week.
On top of that, while the 963,000 number on its own is the lowest count since the economic closures started, it is still incredibly high by historic measures. According to reports, before the pandemic, the previous worst week on record was in 1982 when 695,000 people filed for unemployment.
Additionally, while unemployment has been trending down in general, many of the claims filed earlier on in the pandemic were due to temporary layoffs and furloughs. Now, however, experts say that most of the new job losses that are being reported now are likely going to be permanent.
Last week, the DOL reported that employers brought back 1.8 million jobs in July, which is way down from the 4.8 million they brought back in June. With multiple enhanced benefits and protections provided under the CARES Act already expired, economists warn that the slowdown will continue through August.
See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Forbes) (The New York Times)
New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns
- The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
- The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
- The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.
CDC Issues Warning
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus.
The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.
Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.
Mitigating Spread of Variant
“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”
The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.
“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.
“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”
See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times) (NBC News)
Former Michigan Gov. and 8 Others Charged Over Flint Water Crisis
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. (Al Goldis/AP)
- Ex-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty Wednesday for his role in the Flint water crisis
- By Thursday, eight more former state and city officials were charged with crimes ranging from involuntary manslaughter to extortion.
- Flint residents have long awaited this news. In 2019, prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against 15 officials and said they would start the investigation from scratch, citing concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.
Rick Snyder Charges
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said Thursday that it had filed 41 charges against nine former state and city officials for their role in the Flint water crisis.
The most high-profile figure to be charged was former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. On Wednesday, he was hit with two counts of willful neglect of duty.
He was the state’s top executive when local officials decided to switch the city’s drinking water source to the Flint River in 2014.
The switch was supposed to be a temporary cost-saving measure while a pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. However, the water wasn’t treated properly for corrosion, so lead-contaminated water was released into the homes of people all over the city. Because of that, 12 people died and at least 90 were sickened with Legionnaires’ disease.
Snyder appeared in court this morning via Zoom, pleading not guilty to the two misdemeanor charges. If convicted he could face up to a year in prison and as much as a $1,000 fine.
His charges alone are significant because they make him the first governor or former governor in the state to ever be charged with a crime for alleged conduct while in office.
8 Others Charged
Along with Snyder, eight others were charged, including a former state health director Nick Lyon. Lyon received nine charges of involuntary manslaughter, among others.
Richard Baird, one of Snyder’s closes advisors was changed for extortion, perjury, and obstructions of justice. Others who were charged include:
- Jarrod Agen, Snyder’s former chief of staff and Vice President Mike Pence’s former communications director.
- Dr. Eden Wells, a former chief medical executive for the state Department of Health and Human Services.
- Darnell Earley, former Flint finance director and state-appointed emergency manager.
- Gerald Ambrose, former state-appointed emergency manager.
- Howard Croft, former Flint Public Works Director.
- Nancy Peeler, the state’s director of maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting for the health department.
Flint residents have waited a long time for justice over the water contamination issue. Prosecutors previously dropped all 15 criminal charges tied to the Flint case in 2019 and said the investigation would begin again from scratch.
At the time, they cited concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.
It also wasn’t until last year that the state reached a $600 million settlement with victims, establishing a fund from which residents can file for compensation.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Detroit News) (Detroit Free Press)
Three Lawmakers Test Positive for COVID-19 Following Capitol Attack
- At least three Congressmembers have tested positive for COVID-19 following Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol.
- Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) believe they contracted the virus after locking down in close quarters with numerous Republican lawmakers who refused to wear masks.
- Jayapal and Schneider are calling for those who did not wear a mask to face consequences.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman Tests Positive
At least three members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19 after locking down in close quarters with other House members during Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol.
Congress’ attending physician, Brian Monahan, warned that members may have been exposed during the lockdown. He recommended that everyone who was isolated inside should get tested for the virus.
On Monday Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) became the first to announce that she tested positive. Watson Coleman believes she was exposed while in the Capitol lockdown. In her statement, she cited the multiple Republicans who refused to wear masks while inside. Video footage from Punchbowl News shows a Democratic lawmaker handing out masks and a handful of Republicans declining to take one.
Watson Coleman is a 75-year-old lung cancer survivor. While she said she is only experiencing cold-like symptoms, she tweeted that per a doctor’s suggestion, she headed to a local hospital for antibody treatment. She also encouraged those who sheltered in place to get tested.
More Cases Follow
Later on Monday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said she too had tested positive, also blaming a lack of mask-wearing in the Capitol. In a lengthy Twitter thread, she said Republicans created a superspreader event and demanded consequences for their actions.
“Many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic—creating a superspreader event ON TOP of a domestic terrorist attack,” she wrote.
“Any Member who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable,” Jayapal added.
“I’m calling for every single Member who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol to be fined and removed from the floor by the Sergeant at Arms.”
Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) echoed her frustrations on Tuesday after releasing a statement saying he has become the third House member to have tested positive following the lockdown.
“Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff,” he wrote.
Like Jayapal, he is calling for sanctions against those who opted to not wear masks.
Many health officials feared that this lockdown could lead to a surge in cases. They also worry that the mob itself could lead to a superspreader event as most of those who attacked the Capitol were not wearing masks and were crowding together both inside and outside of the building.