STATES ON HOOK FOR BIL­LIONS UN­DER TRUMP’S BEN­E­FIT PLAN

Chicago Sun-Times - - NATION/WORLD - BY MATTHEW BARAKAT

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Whether Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has the con­sti­tu­tional au­thor­ity to ex­tend fed­eral un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits by ex­ec­u­tive or­der re­mains un­clear. Equally up in the air is whether states, which are nec­es­sary part­ners in Trump’s plan to by­pass Congress, will sign on.

Trump an­nounced an ex­ec­u­tive or­der Sat­ur­day that ex­tends ad­di­tional un­em­ploy­ment pay­ments of $400 a week to help cush­ion the eco­nomic fall­out of the pan­demic. Congress had ap­proved pay­ments of $600 a week at the out­set of the coro­n­avirus out­break, but those ben­e­fits ex­pired Aug. 1 and Congress has been un­able to agree on an ex­ten­sion. Many Repub­li­cans have ex­pressed con­cern that a $600 weekly ben­e­fit, on top of ex­ist­ing state ben­e­fits, gives peo­ple an in­cen­tive to stay un­em­ployed.

But un­der Trump’s plan, the $400 a week re­quires a state to com­mit to pro­vid­ing $100.

Many states are al­ready fac­ing bud­get crunches caused by the pan­demic. Asked at a news con­fer­ence how many gover­nors had signed on to par­tic­i­pate, Trump an­swered: “If they don’t, they don’t. That’s up to them.”

Aubrey Layne, sec­re­tary of fi­nance for Vir­ginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Demo­crat, said in a phone in­ter­view Sun­day he be­lieves it would be fea­si­ble for Vir­ginia to par­tic­i­pate in such a pro­gram if states are al­lowed to use money that’s been al­lo­cated to them un­der the al­ready passed CARES Act. He said his pre­lim­i­nary un­der­stand­ing is that states can do so, but he and oth­ers are wait­ing to see the rules pub­lished.

The bet­ter so­lu­tion, Layne said, would be for Congress to pass leg­is­la­tion.

“It’s lu­di­crous to me that Congress can’t get to­gether on this,” he said. “I think it would have been bet­ter for the pres­i­dent to use his in­flu­ence in those ne­go­ti­a­tions, rather than stand­ing on the side­line and then rid­ing in like a shin­ing knight.”

In­deed, de­tails about the pro­gram be­came con­fused on Sun­day. On CNN’s “State of the Na­tion,” White House eco­nomic ad­viser Larry Kud­low said con­flict­ing things about whether the fed­eral money was contin­gent on an ad­di­tional con­tri­bu­tion from the states. Ini­tially Kud­low said that “for an ex­tra $100, we will lever it up. We will pay three-quar­ters, and the states will pay 25%.” In the same in­ter­view, though, he later said that “at a min­i­mum, we will put in 300 bucks … but I think all they [the states] have to do is put up an ex­tra dol­lar, and we will be able to throw in the ex­tra $100.”

A clar­i­fy­ing state­ment from the White House said the “funds will be avail­able for those who qual­ify by, among other things, re­ceiv­ing $100/week of ex­ist­ing as­sis­tance and cer­tify that they have lost their jobs due to COVID-19.”

Sev­eral ad­vo­cacy groups that fol­low the is­sue, though, said it’s clear the way the ex­ec­u­tive or­der is struc­tured that the fed­eral money will be contin­gent on states mak­ing a 25% con­tri­bu­tion.

New York Gov. An­drew Cuomo, a Demo­crat, called the plan “an im­pos­si­bil­ity.”

“I don’t know if the pres­i­dent is gen­uine in think­ing the ex­ec­u­tive or­der is a res­o­lu­tion or if this is just a tac­tic in the ne­go­ti­a­tion,” Cuomo said. “But this is ir­rec­on­cil­able for the state. And I ex­pect this is just a chap­ter in the book of Wash­ing­ton COVID mis­man­age­ment.”

EVAN VUCCI/AP FILE

White House eco­nomic ad­viser Larry Kud­low said con­flict­ing things Sun­day about whether a fed­eral job­less ben­e­fit is contin­gent on an ad­di­tional con­tri­bu­tion from the states.

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