Half a million New Jerseyans will see their unemployment benefits lapse a week because President Donald Trump refused to sign a COVID-19 federal relief bill before their Dec. 26 expiration.
The measure extends those programs for 11 weeks into February – one for freelancers and another offering an additional 13 weeks of unemployment after claimants have burnt through their initial aid. But with the lapse in benefits, that means most Americans would only get 10 weeks of the extension before the aid is set to expire.
Meanwhile, the added $300 per week under the relief bill, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, will only last for 12 weeks because of its expiration. And New Jersey labor officials cautioned that taking on that additional relief could take time to set up.
All told, the state has paid out over $20 billion to nearly 1.9 million New Jerseyans out of work since March. Record-high unemployment and jobless claims stem from mass business closures and highly restricted capacity that was meant to stomp out the large gatherings of people that would provide the virus with new potential hosts.
Congress sent a $908 billion relief bill, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, to Trump’s desk on Dec. 22, and he signed it on Dec. 27.
It calls for hundreds of billions of dollars toward business assistance, aid to airliners and public transit, and finances to bolster state efforts for testing, contact tracing and administering the COVID-19 vaccine.
There are 312,000 New Jerseyans getting freelancer benefits, known as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, and 175,000 getting federal extended benefits, known as Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, according to the state Labor Department.
In total, the state has distributed nearly $3.8 billion under those two programs. Nationwide, the program is used by millions of Americans as a lifeline.
Trump’s opposition to the bill came over the $600 stimulus checks, which he decried as too low. Instead, he wants $2,000 stimulus checks, which has drawn the support of Congressional Democratic leadership and many other top Democrats like Murphy.
“I agree that more stimulus was and remains needed, but this was the wrong way to go about it,” the governor said on Monday in Trenton. “This bill should’ve been signed immediately as a down-payment, and further assistance taken up. For many families across New Jersey, this delay was a failure.”
Murphy assured that the state Labor Department would work to ensure they can get out benefits for these two programs, but ultimately the timeline would be up to Washington.
But he said on Monday that New Jerseyans would get this week’s payments – albeit delayed – before saying that they would instead miss out on this week’s payments altogether.
Trump also came down on pork spending he said was tucked into the federal relief measure, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, even though the items in question were actually part of an accompanying $1.4 trillion federal spending measure.
Although Senate Republicans – initially resistant to higher stimulus checks – have warmed up to Trump’s demands, House Republicans blocked an effort by Democratic leadership last week to push through the $2,000 checks.
Trump ultimately got none of those concessions, but Congress is meeting this week to push through the $2,000 federal stimulus.
A bill sent to Murphy’s desk last week infuses $350 million to cover unemployment benefits between Dec. 22 and Feb. 27, 2021, for anyone whose benefits expire between those dates.
Murphy, when asked on Dec. 23, did not comment on the bill, beyond urging Trump to sign the CARES Act extension.
“I hope that we can walk and chew gum here. That the President both signs it and again, he wants more, I want more, that we could do that as a separate matter,” the governor said.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated at 1:50 p.m. EST on Dec. 28, 2020, to include remarks from Gov. Phil Murphy.