Economic relief was finally forthcoming from President Trump on Saturday, when he signed an executive order plus three memoranda, aimed at halting the worst of the coronavirus recession. By Sunday, Americans were grappling with the implications – how can each person and whether there’s going to be more stimulus checks in the mail or other rescue packages? Is Trump even allowed to do what he’s done? We’re going to try and answer some of these points for you. 

“The Lord and Founding Fathers created executive orders because of partisan bickering and divided government,” Peter Navarro, director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy to the Trump Administration, said during an interview Sunday on NBC’s Meet The Press

Making the executive orders has come in for sharp criticism from negotiators on the Democratic side of the aisle.

“What the president did is unconstitutional slop,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Fox News Sunday. She further went on to say that the payroll tax cut would have serious implications for Social Security and Medicare. 

Shelby Brown and Lori Grunin dived into what the executive actions are all about for cnet

Unemployment benefits uplifted

What happened? In one of the memoranda signed by Trump, the federal government will pay $300 of the $400 unemployment payment. At a state level, where money is already tight from dealing with the pandemic, they’ll only need to pay $100 of unemployment per person each week. It’s a retroactive order that dates back to August 1 and there’s expected to be some push back from state governors on this one. 

Who’s paying for it? FEMA funds that haven’t yet been spent are in Trump’s sights to cover these new unemployment benefits. 

I am directing up to $44 billion from the [Disaster Relief Fund],” Trump’s memorandum says. “At least $25 billion of total DRF balances will be set aside to support ongoing disaster response and recovery efforts and potential 2020 major disaster costs. 

At the same time, experts are warning of a potentially “extremely active” hurricane season. A hurricane can cost up to £22 billion each time, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Is it legal? Federal spending is under the powers of Congress in the US Constitution, and this executive action could go against that. Trump’s legal authority to issue an executive order about spending money doesn’t actually exist, about coronavirus spending or anything else. 

Anything else? Nancy Pelosi told Fox News on Sunday that the executive orders, “don’t give the money to the enhanced benefit, but puts a complicated formula there, which will take a while if at all to accomplish to put money in the pockets of the American people.”

“The Labor Department, working with states, believe it could happen much, much faster than that,” White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said Sunday, with checks apparently due in just a couple of weeks.  

No help for potential evictees, yet

Under the CARES Act, late fees were banned and landlords couldn’t file for eviction until at least July 25 if the property was under a federal mortgage program, like those provided by Fannie Mae, or ones that receive HUD funding. The new HEALS Act from the Republicans doesn’t go into evictions and the detail in Trump’s executive order is lacking. 

Whether evictions can be banned is passed into the hands of Alex Azar, the Secretary for Health and Human Services, along with Robert Redfield who’s the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The president takes no official position on the issue. 

“The secretary of Health and Human Services and the director of CDC shall consider whether any measures temporarily halting residential evictions of any tenants for failure to pay rent are reasonably necessary to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 from one state or possession into any other state or possession,” the White House’s memo regarding evictions said.

Further, there’s no detail on any financial assistance that might be made available to renters. Steven Mnuchin as the Treasury Secretary and Ben Carson as the Housing and Urban Development Secretary are left to make that choice. 

Deferring student loans 

Until December 31, 2020, student loan interest is deferred under the memorandum on student loans. It’s an extension of a provision in the CARES Act that would otherwise expire on September 30. Students will need to start making payments again from January 1, 2021.

Is it that simple? The memo signed by Trump covers loans “held by the Department of Education,” meaning that private student debts, with banks, for example, aren’t covered. 

The payroll tax cut everyone’s talking about

Trump has been pushing for a “payroll tax holiday” for months. It’s a plan to defer Americans’ having payroll taxes withheld so everyone earning money would temporarily take home a little more each paycheck. It’s only a deferral, rather than full forgiveness, so the taxes would still need to be paid after the deferral finishes, but there’ll be no extra interest or taxes to pay. In the memo, there’s wording that aims to try and eliminate the deferred taxes entirely.

Where’s the rub? The memo covers from September 1 through to December 31 2020 and is for people who earn less than $100,000 per year, or less than $4,000 per fortnight before taxes.

The memo states that the Treasury Secretary can use their authority to “defer the withholding, deposit, and payment of the tax” and according to the US Code that it cites, Mnuchin could have this extended by up to twelve months. 

The taxes being deferred are what pay for social security checks and Medicare payments. 

Could Trump end up in court? Writing and passing laws about finances and money is a power held by Congress. Without Congressional approval, it’s not possible for the White House to just decide to forgive people from paying taxes. 

Quizzed about whether the executive action was actually legal during a press conference last Friday, Trump said, “No, not at all … well, you always get sued. Everything you do, you get sued.”

Executive order vs legislation, what’s the difference? 

In the executive order that Trump’s signed, there are only four topics covered, that we’ve gone through here. The stimulus proposals from both the Democrats and Republicans have much broader scopes. Democrats have criticized the executive orders, saying that they don’t do enough.  

Is the stimulus package dead in the water? 

You can expect to see more discussions about stimulus checks this week. The Democratic leadership is again calling for bipartisan negotiations to get a solution with a wider scope. 

“We are ready to meet the White House and Republicans halfway,” Democratic Minority Whip Dick Durbin said Sunday. “We’ve said that from the start.”

If both sides sit down and talk again, the proposed legislation could get a vote in at least one chamber early in the week. It will take a vote in both chambers before a law can go to the president for a signature. If the house can come to a deal soon, the actions signed over the weekend could end up being moot.