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Unemployment benefits: Trump open to allowing enhanced aid without states paying part of the cost

CNN logo CNN 8/10/2020 By Kevin Bohn, Jeremy Diamond and Paul LeBlanc, CNN
a man in a suit sitting at a table using a laptop: US President Donald Trump signs executive orders extending coronavirus economic relief, during a news conference in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 8, 2020. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images) © Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images US President Donald Trump signs executive orders extending coronavirus economic relief, during a news conference in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 8, 2020. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

President Donald Trump opened the door on Sunday to allowing some unemployed Americans to get enhanced unemployment benefits even if the states in which they live won't pay part of the costs.

His comments come just one day after he signed a memorandum that would require states to agree to enter into a financial arrangement with the federal government for any unemployed person living there to get any of the additional benefits.

Under the memorandum, the federal government would require states to pick up the tab for 25% (or $100) of the $400 additional benefit each person may able to receive weekly in additional aid -- an initiative that was immediately criticized by several governors because of how financially strapped many states are due to the coronavirus.

But Trump said Sunday it was possible that the federal government could pick up the entire cost if governors make a request.

"We have a system where we can do 100% or we can do 75%, they pay 25, and it will depend on the state," he said to reporters before returning to the White House from his resort in New Jersey. "And they will make a application. We will look at it, and we'll make a decision."

"So you know, they may be, they'll pay nothing in some instances or maybe they'll -- a little bit like the National Guard, like the National Guard, as you know. Sometimes we'll pay all of it depending on the tragedy, or whatever it may be, the disaster," he said. "Sometimes the state will pay 40%, 25%, 10% or nothing -- depending on how it works out."

Several experts told CNN there are major questions about how many states may be able to afford the extra cost. If a state says that it does not have the funds or does not want to enter into the agreement with the federal government, the unemployed people in that state would receive zero dollars in the extra benefits (they would still receive the normal state unemployment insurance).

Also, because Congress has not authorized an extension of extra federal unemployment assistance, the state will have to set up an entirely new system to deliver the additional aid, which could take months.

Trump's memorandum on enhanced unemployment benefits was just one of four items he tried to exert executive action on this weekend after Democrats and the White House were unable to reach an agreement on a broad stimulus package.

The other three actions he signed include a memorandum on a payroll tax holiday for Americans earning less than about $104,000 a year, an executive order on "assistance to renters and homeowners" and a memorandum on deferring student loan payments.

The President claimed Sunday the response has been "mostly positives," stating "we've been largely praised."

While many Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have celebrated Trump's package of executive actions, he's faced sustained criticism from Democrats and at least one congressional Republican.

Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer criticized Trump's executive actions as "meager" and accused the President of not grasping the severity of the current crisis.

"We're disappointed that instead of putting in the work to solve Americans' problems, the President instead chose to stay on his luxury golf course to announce unworkable, weak and narrow policy announcements to slash the unemployment benefits that millions desperately need and endanger seniors' Social Security and Medicare," Pelosi and Schumer said in a statement.

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said in a statement Saturday, "The pen-and-phone theory of executive lawmaking is unconstitutional slop."

"President Obama did not have the power to unilaterally rewrite immigration law with DACA, and President Trump does not have the power to unilaterally rewrite the payroll tax law. Under the Constitution, that power belongs to the American people acting through their members of Congress."

This story has been updated with additional information about reaction to the President's executive actions.

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