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With negotiations on next stimulus package at an impasse, here’s what you can actually count on

Many retailers across the U.S. are shuttering storefronts like this Manhattan outlet in New York amid the ongoing Covid-19 downturn.

Carlo Allegri | Reuters

With negotiations between Republicans and Democrats over the shape of the next government stimulus package in deadlock, President Donald Trump took executive action earlier this month to pass a patchwork of federal aid.

Which of those relief measures can you count on? It’s complicated, experts say. 

“The executive order has created confusion,” said Emily Benfer, an eviction expert and visiting professor of law at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

After the $600-a-week federal unemployment boost on top of people’s state benefit expired at the end of July, Trump said he would send Americans a $400 weekly payment. 

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Yet, because the policy would require states to come up with $100 of that expanded benefit, most people would actually end up with $300 a month, experts say.

“States are pretty unlikely to fill in the $100,” said Michele Evermore, senior policy analyst for the National Employment Law Project. 

What’s more, states are only guaranteed to receive this funding for three weeks

And it could take states eight weeks — or more — to roll out Trump’s federal unemployment benefit, Evermore said.

Because of all the fine print, some states might not bother to implement it at all. “That date might be ‘never’ in some states,” she said.

There’s another catch: You have to already be receiving at least $100 in state unemployment benefits to qualify for the extra federal payment. That will leave out at least 1 million jobless Americans.

For example, Philip Tuley, who was laid off from his job as an assistant teacher in California in March, receives a state unemployment check of only $65 a week. That means he’s ineligible for the extra benefit. 

“They’re playing with people’s lives,” Tuley, 63, said. “We’re into the last bit of our savings. I’ve cut our food budget as far as I can.” 

In some states, the minimum weekly benefit is as little as $5 or $15. 

Jobless Americans hoping for more reliable expanded unemployment benefits will probably have to wait for Congress to reach an agreement. But, Evermore said, “It seems like a deal is still pretty far off.” 

One silver lining: If and when Capitol Hill decides on another round of federal unemployment benefits, those payments will likely be retroactive to when the $600 lapsed, experts say.

The executive order on eviction does not in any way create a moratorium on eviction, nor does it direct federal agencies to issue a moratorium.

Emily Benfer

eviction expert

“I would expect that it will be retroactive, and the state unemployment insurance agencies will have to pay people for the missed weeks,” said Stephen Wandner, senior fellow at the National Academy of Social Insurance.

Trump recently posted on Twitter that he directed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin “to get ready to send direct payments ($3,400 for family of four) to all Americans.” 

Yet the president’s executive action didn’t include another round of stimulus checks, so Americans will likely have to wait for Congress to strike a deal before they see those payments, which do have bipartisan support. 

Trump also said he was didn’t want people evicted during the pandemic and that the bill he was signing “will solve that problem largely, hopefully completely.” 

Experts disagree. 

“The executive order on eviction does not in any way create a moratorium on eviction, nor does it direct federal agencies to issue a moratorium,” Benfer said. “Any statement otherwise is false and should not be relied upon.”

The memorandum merely directs federal agencies to “consider” measures to prevent evictions, said Peggy Bailey, vice president of housing policy at the Center on Budget Policies and Priorities. 

Some states still have in place a statewide ban on evictions, but the number of those are quickly dwindling. 

“Tenants facing eviction in states or cities without a local eviction moratorium in effect should immediately seek legal advice,” Benfer said.

(You can find out what protections, if any, are available to you in this database that Benfer continues to update.) 

Experts say another one of Trump’s actions may also fail to deliver meaningful relief to Americans: His call for a temporary cut to payroll taxes.

It’s unclear if employers will actually give their workers’ larger paychecks or just continue to withhold the levies for when and if they’re eventually due to the government. 

Trump’s executive order also gave people with student debt another three-month break from their bills, during which interest will not accrue. The payment pause in the first stimulus package was scheduled to lapse next month, even while the unemployment rate is still higher than at any point during the Great Recession and young workers are among the hardest hit. 

As a result, more than 35 million people with federal student loans won’t have to resume their payments until January 2021. 

Higher-education expert Mark Kantrowitz said he believes the president doesn’t have the legal authority to implement a payment pause and interest waiver for borrowers. 

Still, Kantrowitz said, “it’s unlikely that anybody is going to object to the executive order with regard to the student loan provisions.” He also said the policy “has broad bipartisan support.” 

As of now, that might be the one form of relief people can count on.

How has the lapse in stimulus relief impacted your finances? If you’re willing to be in a story, please email me at [email protected]

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