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Jobless workers will get little or no help from Trump’s executive orders

Trump’s country club crowd applauds the move
By Masao Suzuki |
August 10, 2020
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San José, CA - On Saturday, August 8, President Trump signed four executive orders that he declared would “take care of, pretty much, the entire situation.” But jobless workers will get little or no help from the triple whammy of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic crisis and the recent loss of the additional $600 a week in unemployment benefits, known as the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, of FPUC.

Instead, Trump ordered $400 a week in additional payments, calling the cut in benefits “generous.” But he ordered the money to come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA. There is only enough money for about five weeks of additional benefits. This money would come out of FEMA’s budget just as the hurricane season is getting underway, with the recent hurricane Isaias causing the second longest power outage in New York history.

Even worse, Trump’s executive order would have the states chip in 25% of the payment. Almost all of the states have budget deficits and would have to cut spending to fund the payments. State and local governments have already cut over a million jobs in this recession, meaning that states could have to literally cut jobs to fund the payments for the unemployed. They would also have to set up a new system on top of their current systems, which are still at the point of collapse in many states, with more than a million unemployed not getting paid. This would probably take until at least September to do.

Worst of all, the Trump executive leaves out workers who are getting less than $100 a week in benefits. This means that many workers who were part time, low wage, or living in states with stingy unemployment benefits would get nothing. There is no reason for this except to hurt the poorest of the jobless.

But Trump’s theater got a positive response from the private, Trump-owned, Bedminster golf club members who paid up to $300,000 for membership fees. They appeared to be unaware that they were actually watching a remake of the TV show House of Cards, where the fictional president did the same executive order. As they crowded into the conference room, unmasked, they booed and hissed at reminders that they were supposed to be wearing masks. Why should they worry, when Trump repeated his view that the virus was “disappearing”?

The fact of the matter is that total confirmed COVID-19 cases have now topped 5 million, the highest in the world. This number has doubled since the end of June, showing that the pandemic is still growing, as we matched the first six months of the year in less than six weeks. More than 160,000 Americans have died, making this the worst disaster for the last hundred years. Just in the last two weeks alone, there has been a 40% rise in the number of children infected with COVID-19 in the United States, bringing the total to close to 250,000 children. One economist made a direct comparison between Trump’s handling of the pandemic and his executive orders on the economy, calling the executive orders the hydroxychloroquine of economic policy.

In addition, Trump’s so-called payroll tax cut is not a real cut. Trump does not have the power to cut taxes, which lies with Congress. What he did was to delay, or defer, collecting the tax until December. Trump has pledged to get a payroll tax cut if reelected, but he does not even have support of Republicans in the Senate much less the Democrats in the House of Representatives. This will lead many businesses to hang on to the taxes until then, as if the tax isn’t cut, they would be responsible for trying to get the back taxes from their workers.

Many people and organizations are also opposed, as the payroll taxes are used to pay for Social Security and Medicare. They have pointed out that this could open the door to cutting Medicare and Social Security.

The third executive order signed by Trump, on evictions, does not reinstate the eviction ban that was part of the CARES Act, which put a temporary ban on evictions of tenants in buildings where the landlords got federally-backed mortgages, and foreclosures on homeowners with mortgages backed by the federal government. It expired at the end of July the, along with the $600 a week in extra unemployment benefits. Instead, Trump’s executive order tells federal agencies to review all the ways that they prevent evictions and foreclosures, but doesn’t actually order a ban. With up to 40 million households at risk of eviction or foreclosure, this “review” will be of little help.

The last executive order does suspend payments and interest on federal student loans. This will aid about 35 million people with these loans but doesn’t help the 8 million with private loans.

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