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4 ways the federal $300 unemployment benefit could be replaced

Lance Lambert, Anne Sraders
·4 mins read

On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said stimulus talks continue with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, however, they still remain “far apart” on certain issues.

“At this point, getting something done before the election and executing on that would be difficult just given where we are and the level of details,” Mnuchin said at the Milken Institute Global Conference on Wednesday, shortly after talks with Pelosi.

That all comes after Pelosi rejected the White House’s $1.8 trillion stimulus offer last week, which is $400 billion shy of the $2.2 trillion Democratic leaders are seeking.

Both parties support restarting enhanced unemployment benefits. But to do so, it will almost certainly require a broad stimulus deal.

More than 26 million jobless Americans were receiving the $600 enhanced benefit—which was paid on top of state benefits and expired at the end of July. President Donald Trump then signed a memorandum in August to provide a $300 enhanced weekly unemployment benefit, however, the $44 billion he set aside for it is running dry and most states have ended the additional payment.

Fortune examined the four most likely outcomes that would get enhanced unemployment benefits extended or replaced.

Trump and Pelosi reach a deal before the election

Down in the polls, Trump has every incentive to strike a stimulus deal before the election. That could push him to increase his offer to the $2.2 trillion Democratic leaders are seeking. Last week he even suggested he could offer more than $2.2 trillion.

Democrats might be tempted to wait for a President Joe Biden to strike a deal. But if Trump caves to all their demands, that could force their hand to accept a deal.

Then again, Trump might not have the support of his party to make that big of an offer. Republican Senators like Rick Scott and Marsha Blackburn already rejected the idea of passing a stimulus package of $1.8 trillion.

Biden wins and stimulus gets passed after the inauguration

If Democrats win back the White House and Senate in November, they’ll likely pass a massive stimulus package soon after the inauguration. Biden said that’s his plan. The polls are pointing to that outcome: FiveThirtyEight gives Biden a 87% chance of winning, and gives the Democratic party a 70% chance of taking the Senate chamber.

But if Biden wins and Republicans retain the Senate, the stimulus package deal they strike would likely be smaller than the $1.8 trillion the White House is offering, Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, told Fortune.

“They [Democratic leaders] are taking a really big chance by not taking Trump’s offer,” Zandi says. Trump is more keen on a big deal than his Senate Republican colleagues.

And waiting until January 20 to pass more enhanced unemployment could be a serious blow for tens of millions of unemployed Americans and could even result in a pullback in consumer spending, Zandi says.

Trump wins and stimulus gets passed after the election

If Biden wins, a broad stimulus deal is unlikely to pass in the Republican controlled Senate between the election and January 20 inauguration.

But if Trump wins, his allies in the Senate would likely open to passing an economic aid package before the start of his second term. Then again, they’ll still have to strike a deal with the Democratic-controlled House.

Another extension from the White House?

On Wednesday, Mnuchin said he plans to ask Congress for permission to repurpose $300 billion in unused funds from the $2.2 trillion CARES Act.

Trump might try to bypass Congress and issue a memorandum to repurpose that money for enhanced unemployment benefits. He’s hinted at that before. And that’s what he did in August when he moved $44 billion in funding from FEMA to pay for the $300 weekly enhanced unemployment benefit.

But such a move might be illegal and would likely face challenges in the court. Those funds, unlike the $44 billion FEMA disaster aid, weren’t designated for direct aid to Americans.

More must-read finance coverage from Fortune:

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com