Trump orders $400-per-week unemployment payments amid COVID crisis, hits Dems for stonewalling

President Trump signed four executive orders Saturday aimed at delivering relief to Americans struggling with the economic fallout of the coronavirus while accusing Democrats of stonewalling greater aid.

Trump announced a $400-per-week supplemental unemployment payment to out-of-work Americans -- short of the $600 weekly benefit that expired in the end of July. He unveiled a payroll tax holiday to Americans earning less than $100,000 through the end of the year, an extension of student loan relief to the end of the year and protections from evictions.

The president signed the executive actions from his Trump National Golf Club Bedminster, as club members cheered him on. Trump blamed Democrats for the coronavirus deal stalemate in Congress and said he'd take matters into his own hands.

"Democrats are obstructing all of it," Trump said. "Therefore I'm taking executive action ...and we're going to save American jobs and provide relief to the American workers."

For the new $400 per week benefit, states would be on the hook for funding 25 percent to the millions of jobless Americans, while the federal government would pick up 75 percent of the benefit, Trump said.

Acting unilaterally has its limits and could prompt legal challenges. Trump's orders are narrower in scope than the trillions Congress is mulling for a massive stimulus to the virus-damaged economy. Congress controls new federal spending and Trump already predicted sidestepping lawmakers will have consequences.

“We’ll see, yeah, probably we’ll get sued," Trump told reporters Friday.

House Democrats already passed their $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill in May. The Senate GOP last month proposed a $1 trillion plan, though didn't bring the measure to a vote as Republicans were divided on whether more aid is even needed.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer have been in talks all week with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, but the two sides couldn't strike a deal.

Democrats blamed the GOP for failing to understand the gravity of the crisis and for trying to "nickel and dime" struggling Americans, while the White House accused Democrats of not willing to compromise.

Trump blasted the Democrats' $3 trillion HEROES Act as a “racial left policy” that includes bailouts to states, sending stimulus help to undocumented immigrants and funding for mail-in voting and other election provisions.

“They want to steal the election," Trump said of Democrats.

Trump's actions didn't address some of the big issues that Congressional proposals sought to tackle, including another round of $1,200 stimulus checks, aid to schools to reopen safely, an infusion of cash to revenue-strapped state and local governments, food assistance, new lawsuit protections for businesses and money for mail-in voting for the 2020 elections.

Because of provisions in the Constitution that grant the legislative branch spending power, the White House can't just pull hundreds of billions out of the ether without Congressional approval.

But the Trump administration believes it has access to $140 billion which it can “reprogram.” That includes $80 billion in untapped money from the big coronavirus bill signed into law in March and $40 billion from the Disaster Relief Fund.

The White House believes it can divert some of this funding without congressional blessing, similar to how Trump in 2019 declared a national emergency at the border with Mexico to shift billions of dollars from the Pentagon budget to help pay for a border wall.

Pelosi and Schumer earlier this week expressed skepticism about Trump's executive powers.

"You can't move that much money," Pelosi said. "We're talking about a major investment."

The Democrats want the White House to continue negotiating with Congress on a big package.

"A better way to do this is [to] come to an agreement that meets the needs of the American people -- a much better way," Schumer said.

The need for relief is pressing as millions of Americans lost out on the $600-per-week federal unemployment benefit that expired at the end of July. A partial moratorium on evictions on properties with government-backed mortgages also expired at the end of last month.

There are some 110 million Americans living in rental households; up to 23 million renters – or 20 percent – are at risk of eviction by Sept. 30, according to an analysis by the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project.

With the supplemental $600 in unemployment benefits now officially lapsed, about 24 million Americans say they have little to no chance of being able to pay next month's rent, according to a survey by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Rent and mortgage payments are typically the largest monthly expense for Americans: One in four tenant families pays more than half of its income for rent, a rate that’s even higher in cities like San Francisco and New York, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

New jobless figures from the Labor Department, which cover the week ending August 1, show that more than 1.18 million workers sought aid last week, the lowest since March 14.  The latest figures bring the total number of unemployment claims since the shutdown began to more than 55 million.

The unemployment rate fell to 10.2%, down from 11.1% in June.