KEY POINTS

  • Trump decided on a $400 level on the condition that a quarter of the amount would be paid for by states and with the federal contribution coming from Federal Emergency Management Agency funds. 
  • Legal action could be taken by Congress since federal funding requires congressional appropriation.
  • Roughly 25.6 million workers were impacted by the loss of $600 weekly payments that expired on July 31.

Four executive orders signed by President Trump on Aug. 8 sought to provide economic relief to millions of Americans days after the expiration of $600-a-week benefits and following stalled negotiations with Congress. But the executive orders immediately raised legal questions as well as issues over implementation.

Trump issued the executive orders after Republicans fought Democrats’ plans to keep the aid at $600 a week, instead proposing $200 a week before raising the figure to $400 a week.

Trump decided on a $400 level on the condition that a quarter of the amount would be paid for by states and with the federal contribution coming from Federal Emergency Management Agency funds. When states claimed they couldn’t meet the commitment due to $555 billion in cumulative budget shortfalls, Trump added the option of a $300-a-week benefit, provided entirely by the federal government.

By declaring a national emergency, Trump has claimed that had the power to tap FEMA funds. But the Stafford Act, which set up the agency, limits the ways funds can be diverted for unemployment compensation purposes and requires a state contribution.

“The Trump administration claims to be counting money states are already required to pay as regular unemployment compensation as the states’ match, but this does [not] ‘share’ the cost of the FEMA benefit with ‘funds made available by the state,’ as the Act requires,” Georgetown University law Professor David A. Super wrote in an opinion piece published by the Hill. “It also double-counts the state unemployment benefits, which are already being counted under another federal law. That violates longstanding, governmentwide accounting rules designed to ensure fiscal integrity.”

Trump’s order taps $44 billion in FEMA funds, a sum which will run out in three weeks and a timetable too short for many states to retool their computer systems to handle the payments. Additionally, states are wary of implementing the order because if it is found illegal by the inspector general or the courts, they could be left on the hook to repay the funds.

“There’s only so much you can do through executive action,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters Monday. “We’re now at a point where the president is just doing that, but I want to make sure there’s no legal risk for us if someone were to challenge this, then we’d be left on the hook.”

Such legal risks didn’t stop Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana and New Mexico from immediately jumping at the funding. Other states, including Indiana, also have applied.

Immediately after signing the executive orders, Trump said he expected lawsuits to follow. Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee noted in a blog post that the president has the authority to fill the void created by the breakdown in negotiations. 

In an interview with National Public Radio, Andrew Rudalevige, professor of government at Bowdoin College, said legal action could be taken and that “Congress itself could have some standing to sue” after pointing out that federal funding requires congressional appropriation.

Unemployment expert Andrew Stettner of the Century Foundation said the executive order is unworkable and represents an abandonment of those in real need. Roughly 25.6 million workers were impacted by the loss of $600 weekly payments that expired on July 31.

“Rather than propose a workable plan to meet the needs of the unemployed, the executive action provides political cover to the administration and congressional Republicans to walk away from negotiations until after Labor Day,” Stettner said in an email to International Business Times. “Trump’s presidential memorandum signals a complete breakdown of the social contract. It makes the deliberate choice to abandon people during the worst economic and public health crisis in modern history.”





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