States strain to carry out Trump order on unemployment aid

President Donald Trump walks to his car after arrive in Southampton, N.Y., on Marine One, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020. Trump is attending two fundraisers during his visit to the Hamptons. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Donald Trump walks to his car after arrive in Southampton, N.Y., on Marine One, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020. Trump is attending two fundraisers during his visit to the Hamptons. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. – Governors and state labor department officials were scrambling Monday to determine whether they could implement President Donald Trump’s executive order to partially extend unemployment assistance payments to millions of Americans struggling to find work in the pandemic-scarred economy.

Trump’s order allocates $44 billion in federal dollars from FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund to boost unemployment aid for the jobless and calls on states to kick in roughly $15 billion. The Trump administration says states can pull from federal coronavirus relief funds already distributed to states earlier in the crisis.

But some states have already fully allocated that money for other critical needs.

Trump's actions on unemployment insurance and other relief aid were another expansive flexing of presidential authority that could usurp Congress's power to approve federal spending.

The order extends additional unemployment payments of $400 a week to help cushion the economic fallout of the pandemic. Congress had approved payments of $600 a week at the outset of the outbreak, but those benefits expired Aug. 1 and Congress has been unable to agree on an extension.

Many Republicans have expressed concern that a $600 weekly benefit, on top of existing state benefits, gives people an incentive to stay unemployed. The White House described the $400 level as an appropriate compromise, and top administration officials including Vice President Mike Pence on Monday urged governors in a private call to pressure Democratic lawmakers to come to a deal.

But Democrats have dismissed Trump's executive order as a hollow political gesture — not to mention legally questionable — that could ultimately leave millions of Americans without much-needed aid. Several governors said their states simply couldn't afford to chip in a quarter of the cost, even with the relief money previously approved by Congress.

That share would cost California $700 million a week, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday. The state has already allocated 75% of the money that came from an earlier congressional package.