Confusion and panic over unemployment benefits in WA after Trump fails to sign COVID-19 relief bill

Help for millions of unemployed Americans is now on hold. President Trump failed to sign a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill by the 11:59 p.m. Saturday deadline – which means crucial federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits have now expired.

About 12 million Americans will lose some of their unemployment benefits. Those most impacted are jobless gig workers, freelancers, or those who were self-employed and didn’t qualify for regular unemployment benefits.

People in Washington State frantically checked the Employment Security Department’s website and several people reported in an unemployment Facebook group their PUA benefits already said “expired” – launching confusion and panic.

“It’s just so scary right now,” said Vanessa Randle, who was working in the food industry in Tacoma. She started receiving unemployment in September.

About 100,000 households in Washington are receiving PUA benefits. Randle said she waited with anxiety this Christmas weekend to find out if her benefits would be cut.

“Panic, a little bit of panic,” Randle said. “It’s nerve-wracking. I’ve got bills in January that have got to be paid to keep my car,” she said.

After months of gridlock, Democrats and Republicans reached an agreement and passed a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill on December 21.

“This bill, while it’s not perfect, provides a down payment on trying to help the folks who are hurting right now,” said US Congressman Derek Kilmer, representing Washington’s 6th District.

But President Trump threatened to veto the bill, sending shockwaves. The bill was flown to his desk in Mar-a-Lago Friday, but the president still failed to sign the bill by Saturday night.

Trump previously called the $600 rebate check in the bill from congress “measly” and doubled down Saturday night in a tweet, saying in part, “$2000 plus other family members. Not $600.”

“He’s acting like he’s helping the American people by trying to push for a bigger stimulus but at the end of the day, is he really helping anybody at this point?” Randle said.

She says continued unemployment checks and some help would’ve been better than the situation now.

“What about the 12 million people now worrying about next month’s rent, food for the children, all because you’re arguing about $600 or $2,000 stimulus?” Randle said.

The president’s actions frustrated Democrats like Rep. Kilmer, who fought for months for a bigger rebate check for Americans.

“The President didn’t engage in the negotiations, he had his treasury secretary there, his secretary was there pushing the $600. So I can’t tell if the president was too busy dealing with the election outcome or is ill informed, or is just intentionally causing chaos,” Kilmer said.

The bill also contained critical funding for SNAP benefits, schools and a COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan.

“This isn’t a game. There are folks who are really hurting right now,” Kilmer said. “They need help - they’ve waited far too long for this,” he said.

Governor Jay Inslee said earlier this month that the state can support at least one month’s worth of benefits for people who depend on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, but some of the details on the transition of funding is still unclear.

Washington’s Employment Security Department says people should still file their normal claims on Sunday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to push a bill on Monday to provide $2,000 stimulus checks.

The president’s refusal to sign the relief bill also means Congress will need to pass some kind of funding bill on Monday to avoid a government shutdown.