Trump's COVID-19 relief executive actions: Everything happening now
Here's everything you need to know about President Trump's executive actions, what they cover, where they fall short, and what's happened since he signed them.
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Shelby Brown (she/her/hers) is an editor for CNET's services team. She covers tips and tricks for apps, operating systems and devices, as well as mobile gaming and Apple Arcade news. Shelby also oversees Tech Tips coverage. Before joining CNET, she covered app news for Download.com and served as a freelancer for Louisville.com.
She received the Renau Writing Scholarship in 2016 from the University of Louisville's communication department.
Clifford is a managing editor at CNET, where he leads How-To coverage. He spent a handful of years at Peachpit Press, editing books on everything from the first iPhone to Python. He also worked at a handful of now-dead computer magazines, including MacWEEK and MacUser. Unrelated, he roots for the Oakland A's.
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A lot has happened since President Donald Trump took unilateral action earlier this month. Trump signed one executive order and three memoranda on Aug. 8 after negotiations stalled between negotiators on Capitol Hill on the next economic stimulus package (which would include a second stimulus check).
Immediately, critics began suggesting that Trump's orders might fall short in ways that the larger stimulus package could accomplish, such as providing a second stimulus check. So what's happened since Trump signed the directives and how does that affect your check?
We broke down all four of the directives, including the gaps that could keep them from being effective at all.
What's happened since Trump signed the executive actions?
Talks are still stalled despite continued name-calling and finger-pointing that indicates both sides recognize the need for a relief package. The Senate adjourned until Labor Day and the House, after returning to pass legislation to provide funding for the USPS, so far have gaveled in on a few pro forma sessions.
Since negotiations are in a deadlock, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said that the administration is looking at other executive actions, such as for the airline industry.
There's also the possibility of smaller, separate relief packages instead of one large package.
What do the executive actions mean for my stimulus check?
So far, the answer still depends on whether Republicans and Democrats in Congress can agree on another coronavirus economic stimulus package that includes a new round of payments for eligible Americans. This is due largely in part to the trouble states might have implementing Trump's orders in general. (Read on for a breakdown of the orders.)
Trump's memorandum on unemployment benefits said the federal government would contribute $300, and states could contribute the remaining $100 to make up the $400 payment allocated in the memo (down from the $600 of the CARES Act, which ended July 31). With individual states are already pinching pennies amid the coronavirus outbreak, governors pushed back, with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo calling it "laughable."
On Aug. 11, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the unemployment benefit could start in a "week or two," but as of Tuesday, checks haven't been sent out.
Here's a breakdown of all four of Trump's orders:
$400 unemployment benefit, with a catch
What it is: Following Trump's memorandum, the federal government would contribute $300 of the $400 payment allocated in the memo (down from the $600 of the CARES Act, which ended July 31). Individual states -- already pinching pennies during the coronavirus outbreak -- are responsible for the remaining $100 per person per week, retroactively starting Aug. 1.
Arizona is the first state to send the $300 as of Aug. 18.
Again, governors have bristled at footing 25% of the bill during a pandemic. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that huge budget cuts would be needed to implement Trump's plan. He estimated that matching 25% for unemployment benefits would cost California around $700 million per week.
"It would create a burden the likes which even a state as large as California could never absorb without, again, massive cuts to important services," Newsom said during a press conference.
In a press conference following the signing, Trump said that he wouldn't let people be evicted, but didn't specify how.
As of Aug. 25, the last remaining eviction protection established by the CARES Act vanished and the executive order offers no solid replacement. Without protection in the order-- or from a relief package from Congress-- a national housing crisis looms on the horizon as September rent is due in a matter of days for tens of millions of renters
The current directive leaves the decision to ban evictions in the hands of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, taking no official stance itself. It also doesn't say if it will provide financial assistance to renters, leaving that decision to Mnuchin and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.
In comparison, the CARES Act banned late fees and eviction filings until July 25 on properties backed by federal mortgage programs like Fannie Mae, or those that receive federal funds like HUD. The Republican-authored HEALS Act didn't address stipulations on evictions.
Student loan payment deferral extends original deadline
The White House's memorandum on student loan deferral moves to waive student loan interest until Dec. 31, extending the current relief under the CARES Act that is set to expire Sept. 30 by two months. Payments are scheduled to restart on Jan. 1, 2021.
There's a catch: Trump's memo applies to loans "held by the Department of Education," which doesn't include privately held student loans, such as through a bank.
The contentious payroll tax cut: How it works
A pet project of Trump's that he's been pushing for months, the "payroll tax holiday" seeks to defer your federal tax withholding, which means you'd take home more money per paycheck -- temporarily. Since this is a deferral and not tax forgiveness, you would still have to pay those taxes after the deferral period passes, though without having to pay additional interest or tax. The memo includes language to explore avenues for eliminating the deferred tax altogether.
The fine print: Trump's memorandum covers a four-month period from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31, for people earning less than $100,000 a year, or less than $4,000 every two weeks (pretax).
The memo's language specifies that Mnuchin, as Treasury secretary, can exercise his authority to "defer the withholding, deposit and payment of the tax." According to the US Code cited, Mnuchin could extend this for one year.
Payroll taxes fund Social Security and Medicare. In a letter to the Senate on Monday, Social Security Chief Actuary Stephen Goss said that if a permanent payroll tax cut were put in place, the program could be out of funding by mid-2023 (Goss estimates this if the change were to take effect for earnings starting Jan. 1, 2021.) Additionally, the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund would run out of funds by mid-2023, and the DI Trust Fund asset reserves would be depleted by about mid-2021.
Money needed to safely reopen schools and provide personal protective equipment
Aid for local and state governments
Money ensuring that elections can be safely carried out
Money to keep post offices open for elections
Will negotiations over the stimulus package continue?
Both Democratic and White House negotiators are open to talks continuing. "If we can get a fair deal, we're willing to do it this week," Mnuchin said.
But talks remain stalled, and the Senate are on break till September. If the two sides do reach an agreement, September looks like a likely time, and stimulus legislation potentially could go up for a vote next month. Both chambers must vote before the legislation lands on Trump's desk for his signature. If a deal is reached, it's also possible that the executive action will be null and void.