Joe Biden, the president-elect of the United States, has urged Donald Trump to sign into law an $892bn COVID-19 funding and relief bill that would provide much-needed support to Americans hit hard by the virus and an economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
In a written statement on Saturday, Biden, who is set to take office on January 20, accused the outgoing president of an “abdication of responsibility” that could have “devastating consequences”.
“It is the day after Christmas, and millions of families don’t know if they’ll be able to make ends meet because of President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign an economic relief bill approved by Congress with an overwhelming and bipartisan majority,” Biden said.
“This bill is critical. It needs to be signed into law now.”
Trump stunned Republicans and Democrats alike when he said this week he was unhappy with the massive bill, which provides a one-time $600 payment to US citizens earning less than $75,000 a year and extends unemployment benefits that expire at the close of December 28.
Without Trump’s signature, about 14 million people could lose those extra benefits, according to Labor Department data. A partial government shutdown will also begin on Tuesday, as the bill comes attached with $1.4 trillion in normal government spending. This could put millions of government workers’ incomes at risk, unless Congress can agree to a stop-gap government funding bill before then.
The US has reported more than 18.7 million cases of COVID-19 since the crisis began and more than 330,000 deaths linked to the virus, according to a tally from the Johns Hopkins University – the highest totals in the world.
‘We are pawns’
“It’s a chess game and we are pawns,” Lanetris Haines, a self-employed single mother of three in South Bend, Indiana who stands to lose her $129 weekly jobless benefit, told The Associated Press news agency.
Earl McCarthy, a father of four who lives in the US state of Georgia, said he has been relying on unemployment since he lost his sales job and will be left with no income by the second week of January if Trump does not sign the bill.
“The entire experience was horrifying,” McCarthy, who is receiving about $350 a week in unemployment insurance, told the AP.
“For me, I shudder to think if I had not saved anything or had an emergency fund through those five months, where would we have been?” he said.
Trump has said the one-time payment to Americans included in the legislation is too low.
“I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill,” Trump tweeted on Saturday morning.
He has not said yet whether he intends to veto the legislation, and he could still sign it in the coming days.