When the U.S. Congress passed pandemic relief law on Monday, Meghan Meyer, a single mother from Lincoln, Nebraska, thought she was recovering from the daily struggle to feed and shelter her two children during an unprecedented health and economic crisis.
But the next day, President Donald Trump declared the long-awaited bailout package a "disgrace" and said he would not legally sign it, deciphering some of its spending measures while demanding that it put major economic tests on most Americans.
Until the weekend he had refused to move.
Meyer, who has been on unpaid medical vacation since May from her customer service job at retailer TJ Maxx because of exposure to severe COVID risk, is facing a financial cliff. She is one of roughly 14 million Americans whose unemployment benefits, introduced by Congress when the pandemic broke out in March, ended on Saturday.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," said 39-year-old Meyer in a telephone interview with Reuters. To get through 2020, Meyer had to rely on friends and charities to put food on the table, pay her rent, cover the family dog's medical expenses, and buy Christmas presents for her children.
"I persevered and persevered," she said.
The new relief law would extend until mid-March to programs that have been supporting the self-employed and the unemployed for more than half a year. By mid-March, everyone on unemployment benefits will be receiving approximately 20.3 million people, an additional $ 300 per week. And it extends a moratorium on evictions through January, which expires on December 31, and offers $ 25 billion in emergency rental assistance.
Many economists agree that aid is inadequate and more is needed after Democratic-elect Joe Biden took office on Jan. 20. Biden called the bill a "down payment".
Negotiated by Trump's own Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Republican Party congressional leaders, the bill was flown to the president's beachfront resort in Florida, where he is on vacation awaiting his possible signature. In tweets on Saturday, Trump signaled that he was still not ready to sign the bill, despite lawmakers asking to show goodwill at Christmas time.
"I just want to bring in our great people $ 2,000 instead of the paltry $ 600," he tweeted Saturday, referring to the stimulus checks of the law as he continued to rant about the November elections when it was baseless Made allegations of election fraud.
Trump had not criticized the terms of the aid package before it was put to a vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
When the economy was stalled by pandemics in March, Congress pounced on unemployment benefits under the $ 2 trillion CARES bill. At the time, lawmakers had not provided that the aid would be needed beyond Christmas, and they could not reach an agreement to expand the benefits until last weekend.
Meyer, like others, has watched her benefits dwindle over the past six months after a CARES program that earned her $ 600 additional weekly unemployment benefits in July expired and her pandemic allowance Emergency unemployment benefit had been exhausted.
That left her with expanded perks of just $ 154 per week through Saturday, which would increase to $ 454 if Trump gives in and signs the bill. If he doesn't, Meyer won't get anything.
"It makes the difference whether we have enough groceries or not, whether I can pay for my car insurance, whether I can have gasoline to go to a grocery bank," she said.
Meyer said she voted for Trump in 2016 but was quickly turned off by his behavior in office, and described his rejection of the aid package as "mean".
"SQUEEZE" ON GROWTH
Employment growth in the US has slowed after an initial recovery when home stay orders were canceled in the summer, and a new wave of coronavirus infections now threatens to contain the recovery.
Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the impartial think tank The Century Foundation, said delaying aid will slow recovery even if most Americans are vaccinated and life returns to normal in 2021.
"If this money doesn't circulate in the economy, it will squeeze things," said Stettner.
Like Meyer, most people who are no longer eligible for federal unemployment benefits will have no income at all as most states offer little assistance, he said.
About 9 million Americans who wouldn't normally qualify for unemployment insurance, including self-employed and gig workers, were given Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) until it expired on Saturday along with other CARES programs, Stettner said.
Among these is the 54-year-old artist Marji Rawson from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who in a normal year would run a booth at art festivals across the country. These festivals may not return until June, but Rawson will be losing about $ 150 a week from Saturday to PUA, which she has relied on throughout the pandemic.
"As if this world wasn't full of fear, we still have it," said Rawson.
(Reporting by Simon Lewis; Editing by Mary Milliken, Michelle Price and Leslie Adler)