President Trump signed four executive actions on Saturday that not only side-step Congress and potentially violate the Constitution, but do very little to provide meaningful relief for the children, families, and communities suffering from the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than engaging in negotiations with Congressional leaders, President Trump unilaterally:
- Extended the deferral of student loan debt. The student loan payment relief included in the CARES Act is set to expire on September 30. President Trump’s memo extends this deferral and waiver of all interest until December 31, 2020.
- Pretended to extend the federal eviction moratorium but in reality the executive order does nothing to prevent evictions and rising homelessness. The CARES Act created a federal moratorium on evictions in federally backed rental properties but this moratorium expired on July 25, leaving 30 to 40 million at risk of eviction in the next several months, further hurting people of color. During Saturday’s press conference, President Trump announced he was extending this federal eviction moratorium but his executive order does nothing to prevent evictions and rising homelessness. The executive order merely directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Director of the CDC to consider whether any measures to temporarily halt residential evictions are reasonably necessary to prevent further spread of COVID-19 and directs the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to take action to help minimize evictions and foreclosures. Yet again, Trump’s words do not match up to his promise to help families stay in their homes while struggling during this crisis.
- Deferred payroll taxes. This memorandum directs the Secretary of the Treasury to defer payment of certain payroll taxes between September 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020. Employers and workers will have to pay these taxes at a later date, so this deferral is unlikely to encourage spending or stimulate the economy like Trump claims. Even if President Trump had the Constitutional authority to rewrite payroll tax law, the payroll tax cut is widely disliked by Democrats and Republicans because it’s not the most effective way to boost the economy and it does nothing to support families most struggling to make ends meet. And any permanent changes to unilaterally end or defer the payroll tax would undermine our earned benefits like Social Security and Medicare.
- Gutted the $600/week in federal unemployment benefits and replaced it with a new, illogical and counterproductive state-run program state offering only $400 per week. This memorandum directs funding from DHS’s Disaster Relief Fund to cover 75 percent of the benefits and requires states to cover the other 25 percent. States are required to enter into this financial agreement with the federal government for any unemployed person in the state to get any of the additional benefits. If the state is unable to cover the 25 percent of the additional benefits and unable to enter into the agreement with the federal government, unemployed people in that state will receive none of the extra federal benefits promised in the executive action. In addition to this new program potentially taking months for states to set up, the federal funding allocated for this program would be exhausted in only a few weeks and states are unlikely to be able to find new money to cover the other 25 percent. This replacement is not only unworkable, but it will not help the 30 million people who have relied on the $600 boost to put food on the table and keep a roof over their head. Instead, this ploy is just another direct attack on Black and Latinx people who face higher unemployment rates, are more likely to be in states with insufficient benefits, and are less likely to work from home compared to their white counterparts.
These executive actions fall far short of what children and families need right now. The House passed the HEROES Act in May but the Senate and the Trump Administration’s delays and unwillingness to negotiate have only worsened the impact of the pandemic and left families without critical support. Rather than an overreach of executive power and executive actions that do very little, we need immediate congressional action on a relief package with meaningful benefits and adequate funding.