News & Commentary

August 9, 2020

Jacob Denz

Jacob Denz is a student at Harvard Law School

President Trump issued four executive orders Saturday. As Bloomberg recounts, the orders address continued expanded unemployment benefits, a temporary payroll tax deferral for some workers, continued eviction protection, and student loan relief. Congressional Democrats criticized the measures as insufficient and a potential threat to Social Security. Meanwhile, Trump’s constitutional authority to act without Congress will likely be subject to legal challenge.

Trump’s unemployment insurance order would continue a reduced $400 per week benefit. States would provide 25% of the money from the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), while the federal government would use the existing Disaster Relief Fund. Some states have already committed their CRF funds for other purposes such as health care, distance learning, and housing assistance. While Democratic leaders have criticized the $400 benefit as insufficient, some Republicans have suggested it is too generous.

The temporary payroll tax deferral would be in effect between September 1 and December 31, 2020. Workers would be required to make up the deferred payments after that time. Trump has suggested that he might extend the deferral and terminate the tax if he is reelected. Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden characterized the measure as Trump’s “roadmap to cutting Social Security.” In any case, the tax deferral will have little practical effect if employers simply continue to withhold payroll tax rather than risk being unable to fulfill their own back obligations to the IRS.

President Trump is also contemplating executive action to curb voting by mail, Politico reports. Conservative groups have challenged state vote-by-mail procedures in many courts, citing the potential for fraud. Trump’s opposition to voting by mail is part of a larger confrontation between the administration and the U.S. Postal Service. Trump’s ability to interfere directly with the postal service is limited by statute, while any executive order aimed at the electoral process would also be subject to constitutional and statutory challenge.

However, Trump has a strong ally in Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who announced a major reorganization of the Postal Service Friday, according to The Washington Post. The reorganization centralizes power around DeJoy and displaces the top two executives in charge of day-to-day operations. The plan also includes a hiring freeze and a reduced number of units and postal regions. DeJoy’s previous cost-cutting measures have included a prohibition on working overtime or making extra trips to ensure mail is delivered on time. The USPS is in a tenuous financial situation and is currently projected to run out of money between March and October 2021. As part of a $10 billion loan agreement, the USPS has agreed to share with the administration proprietary contracts for its ten largest service agreements with private shippers.

States continue to take new measures in response to COVID-19-related workplace safety issues. Nevada became the first state to pass legislation specific to hundreds of thousands of hospitality workers in the state, The New York Times reports. The legislation will require daily temperature screenings, testing, and cleaning at workplaces in the state’s two most populous counties. However, it also grants businesses immunity from potential lawsuits by customers who become ill. In anticipation of the return of thousands of students to college campuses, Michigan has announced a series of webinars geared at bars, restaurants, and other local businesses. In Massachusetts, the Attorney General’s office continues to publicize workplace violations, which local newspapers can then report on a town-by-town basis.

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