Negotiations between Congressional Democrats and Republicans for a second relief bill collapsed in early August, with each side blaming the other. In May the Democrat-controlled House had passed the $3.5 trillion HEROES Act, which would extend an extra weekly unemployment payment of $600, provide rental assistance and mortgage relief, expand the food-stamp program, and help fund state, local, and tribal governments. But the act went nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate. Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin countered with a $1 trillion package that would reduce the employment enhancement to just $200 and include tax cuts and liability protections for businesses. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer offered to compromise at $2 trillion, but Republicans turned them down, anxious about the national debt. As of this writing, no deal appears to be forthcoming.
In the meantime, President Donald Trump, who was absent from these negotiations, has circumvented Congress with a series of executive actions: freezing some federal tax collections, increasing unemployment insurance by $300 per week (with an additional $100 to be contributed by states), and deferring collection of student-loan payments, as well as encouraging the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control to “consider” an eviction moratorium. Trump claimed these actions would “take care, pretty much, of this entire situation.” But it remains unclear whether these measures are constitutional, and whether they would actually relieve Americans’ financial distress or merely defer it.