Economic benefits for victims of the pandemic will expire soon if Congress and the president don't act to extend or replace them.
SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:
Millions of Americans are waking up the day after Christmas to a grim reality. That's because some government programs that provided help to people hurt by the pandemic expired overnight. Others are set to expire in less than a week. Congress passed a $900 billion stimulus bill this week to continue providing unemployment assistance for a few more months, but President Trump has criticized that legislation, and it's not clear if he'll sign it into law.
We're joined now by NPR's Jim Zarroli to talk about what happens next. And, Jim, give us a sense of how important this is to many Americans.
JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Well, remember that since the pandemic lockdown started, we have seen 22 million Americans lose their jobs. Some of these have come back, but many have not. Now, President Trump could decide to sign this bill, which would extend the benefits and then immediately - you know, it would immediately ease their burden. If he decides to veto it, Congress has the votes to override the veto, so the bill would become law, but it would take time. And if the bill isn't approved by January 3, when the current session of Congress expires, it's going - it will die, and Congress will have to vote on a whole new bill.
PFEIFFER: And why is he not signing it? Not only why he's explained why he's not signing it, but what other reasons might be behind that?
ZARROLI: Right. What he says is that the bill doesn't go far enough. It provides $600 stimulus checks for individuals who make less than $75,000 a year. But this week, the president really took everybody by surprise by saying he wanted - wants the checks to be $2,000. Now, Democrats love that idea. They tried unsuccessfully to get bigger checks in the bill. It's really the Republicans who don't like the idea. The president's also raising some other objections to the bill about assistance to other countries. But it's really mainly about the size of the financial assistance in the bill.
PFEIFFER: What is the likelihood that despite his current stance, he will eventually give in and sign it?
ZARROLI: You know, that's what everybody's wondering. I mean, the $900 billion bill that Congress passed this week was sent down to Florida, where the president is staying this weekend, in case he decides to sign it. And a lot of people think he will. Don't forget, this bill was passed by overwhelming majorities of both houses of Congress, of both parties. So having to start all over again is something really nobody wants. So the president is under a lot of pressure to sign it. But, you know, this is President Trump, and he has a way of keeping people guessing.
PFEIFFER: And if Trump does refuse to sign the bill, what are the consequences for the millions of people who've lost their jobs or seen their salary cuts? Is it just, you're on your own?
ZARROLI: Well, if Congress has to restart negotiations and come up with another bill, it will make the situation of these unemployed people more dire. And keep in mind this bill took months to negotiate. So imagine how long it's going to take to write up a new one and get it approved by Congress.
And the timing right now really couldn't be worse. This month alone, we've seen some really disturbing economic numbers. Personal income is down for the second straight month. Consumer spending is also down. Unemployment claims are still really high. So we are going into a - you know, what could be a pretty harsh winter for the economy. The relief bill was supposed to address the pain that people are feeling, but the longer it goes on without becoming law, the tougher their situation is going to be.
PFEIFFER: That's NPR's Jim Zarroli speaking with us from New York. Jim, thank you.
ZARROLI: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.