United States President-elect Joe Biden is urging Donald Trump to sign into law an $892bn COVID-19 funding and relief bill that would provide much-needed support to Americans hit hard by the virus and an economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
In a written statement, Biden, who is set to take office on January 20, accused Trump of an “abdication of responsibility” that could have “devastating consequences”.
“It is the day after Christmas, and millions of families don’t know if they’ll be able to make ends meet because of President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign an economic relief bill approved by Congress with an overwhelming and bipartisan majority,” Biden said.
“This bill is critical. It needs to be signed into law now.”
Trump’s refusal to sign the COVID-19 relief legislation, which passed in the US Congress this week after months of partisan wrangling, has created concerns for millions of Americans who are set to lose special unemployment benefits at midnight Saturday.
The coronavirus support, attached to $1.4 trillion government funding legislation that passed in the House and Senate this week, includes a one-time $600 payment to US citizens and extends some pandemic unemployment benefits and financial supports.
The US has reported more than 18.7 million cases of COVID-19 since the crisis began and more than 330,000 deaths linked to the virus, according to a tally from the Johns Hopkins University – the highest totals in the world.
“It’s a chess game and we are pawns,” Lanetris Haines, a self-employed single mother of three in South Bend, Indiana, who stands to lose her $129 weekly jobless benefit, told The Associated Press news agency.
Earl McCarthy, a father of four who lives in the US state of Georgia, said he has been relying on unemployment since he lost his sales job and will be left with no income by the second week of January if Trump does not sign the bill.
“The entire experience was horrifying,” McCarthy, who is receiving about $350 a week in unemployment insurance, told the AP.
“For me, I shudder to think if I had not saved anything or had an emergency fund through those five months, where would we have been?” he said.
Trump has said the one-time payment to Americans included in the legislation is too low.
“I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill,” Trump tweeted on Saturday morning.
He has not said yet whether he intends to veto the legislation, and he could still sign it in the coming days.
I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill. Also, stop the billions of dollars in “pork”.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 26, 2020
Democrats on Thursday sought to increase the payments to the $2,000 per person that Trump requested, but the president’s fellow Republicans, who oppose the higher amount, blocked the effort.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives plans to vote on legislation this week that would provide one-time, $2,000 checks to individuals.
But special unemployment aid is expected to lapse on Saturday due to the delays in signing the COVID-19 relief legislation into law, US media outlets said, affecting as many as 14 million Americans.
The COVID relief bill would allow people to collect unemployment benefits until March and revive supplemental benefits for millions of people, the New York Times reported.
A partial government shutdown will begin on Tuesday unless Congress can agree to a stop-gap government funding bill before then.
This abdication of responsibility has devastating consequences. This bill is critical. It needs to be signed into law now.
Republican legislator French Hill of Arkansas, who sits on the House Financial Services Committee, told Fox on Saturday that he hoped Trump would sign the bill immediately.
“I wish he had made that pitch for $2,000 as vociferously over the last three weeks as after the bill was passed. It might have given us more leverage to get a slightly higher payment,” Hill said.
At this point, he added, “it’s going to be extraordinarily hard to get that payment through the Senate and the House.”