US President Donald Trump has taken executive action to provide economic aid to millions of Americans affected by the pandemic, saying he was forced to do so after talks in Congress broke down.
The guidelines include measures to support the unemployed, suspend payroll taxes and extend student loans.
Some of them are likely to face legal challenges given that Congress controls federal spending, not the president.
Democratic rival Joe Biden said it was “a series of half-baked measures.”
It is not known whether this move will mean the end of talks between senior government officials and the main Democrats for a stimulus package. Negotiations broke down on Friday after two weeks.
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Mr Trump said the measures would provide up to $ 400 (£ 306) per week in additional unemployment benefits to tens of millions of unemployed Americans. This is less than the $ 600 people were getting until July 31, when the benefit expired.
The president also said states will cover 25% of new payments – the previous benefit was fully funded by the federal government. It seeks to divert money from previously approved disaster assistance to states.
Mr Trump said it would be up to states, which already face huge budget deficits due to the pandemic, to determine how much to use from that fund to pay for the benefits. This means that the additional payment may end up being as low as $ 300 per week.
“This is the money they need, this is the money they want, it makes them go back to work,” President Trump said of the drop in payments at a conference. press Saturday from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
The measures also included a suspension of the collection of payroll taxes – which pay for Social Security and other federal programs – until the end of this year, a suspension of federal student loan payments and efforts to minimize evictions. , but not a moratorium.
The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives had approved a $ 3.5 trillion package that was rejected by the Republican Senate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the most powerful elected Democrat, said she lowered the talks figure to $ 2 billion, but Republicans had come up with a $ 1 billion plan.
Ms Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the president’s actions “meager,” saying they were “unworkable, weak and narrow political announcements” in the face of the economic and health crises.
Mr Biden, President Trump’s rival in the November election, accused him of putting social security “in grave danger” by delaying the collection of payroll taxes, and called the measures a “cynical ploy to deflect responsibility” .
But Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he supported the president “exploring his options for getting unemployment benefits and other relief to those who need it most.”
The unemployment rate in the United States continued to decline in July, but it was a much smaller drop than in May and June, undermining hopes of an economic recovery.
The country’s toll from the coronavirus pandemic has exceeded 160,000. The United States has far more Covid-19 cases by volume than any other country – nearly five million – and its infection rate has steadily increased throughout. throughout the summer.
Congress has already allocated some $ 3 billion for pandemic relief so far. Some Republicans in Congress are unwilling to spend, and nearly half of Republican senators say they would oppose any new relief bills.