Is Trump’s Unemployment Benefit Plan Legal?

Michael Rainey
·2 min read

The White House scrambled earlier this week to clarify President Trump’s effort to provide extra weekly payments to unemployed workers, settling on the idea that the new program would provide workers with up to $300 per week in enhanced payments, without requiring states to contribute. But The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell says the plan is anything but clear, with the administration providing “at least five contradictory versions of this parallel benefit system” announced by president.

Citing Georgetown law professor David Super, Rampell adds that in addition to being a moving target, the program as currently described is probably illegal. Trump’s original plan required states to contribute 25% of the cost of the new unemployment benefit, or $100, bringing the total to $400 per week – a number that has been cited by numerous White House officials. But following a wave of complaints from cash-strapped states, the White House says it has changed the rules to eliminate that contribution.

The problem, Rampell says, is that the 25% cost-sharing payment was part of the plan for a reason. The “state funding match included in Trump’s executive action wasn’t there just for kicks,” Rampell writes. “It was there because it’s required under the law Trump cited as giving him authority to create this benefit program: the Stafford Act.”

And that’s not the only legal issue: “Counting existing state spending on jobless benefits, rather than new spending, to meet the state-match requirement would also violate Office of Management and Budget Circular A-87,” Rampell says.

Why it matters: Aside from the basic but profound issue of public officials following the law, the suspect legal standing of Trump’s plan could prevent states from participating in the program. “It’s not a matter of whether states are willing to sign on the dotted line,” Super told Rampell. “It’s: What are you actually asking me to sign up for?”

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