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U.S. governors question cost of Trump COVID-19 aid plans, urge talks to continue

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican and Democratic governors said on Monday President Donald Trump’s coronavirus relief measures were too expensive for states to implement as they struggle with the costs of the pandemic, and called on officials in Washington to resume negotiations on federal aid.

“We are concerned about the significant administrative burdens and costs this latest action would place on the states,” the leaders of the National Governors Association said in a statement.

“The best way forward is for the Congress and the Administration to get back to the negotiating table and come up with a workable solution, which should provide meaningful additional relief for American families,” New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, and Arkansas’ Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, said.

Talks on a new coronavirus relief package between top Trump administration officials and congressional Democratic leaders collapsed on Friday without an agreement and the two sides have not been in touch since. The Democratic-led House of Representatives passed a $3.4 trillion aid bill in May.

In a bid to move ahead without Congress, the Republican president on Saturday signed executive orders and a memorandum seeking to provide relief to workers, businesses and local governments.

Eviction protections and enhanced unemployment assistance both expired in July, slashing aid for more than 30 million people.

Trump’s orders addressed payroll taxes, evictions and student loan payments, and included a plan to provide supplemental unemployment benefits using disaster relief funds. States would be required to cover 25% of the unemployment funding under the plan.It was not immediately clear that Trump’s orders would have any significant impact on the crisis, however.

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U.S. states have seen sharp declines in taxes and other revenues and steep demands for services from residents during the crisis.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said Trump’s plan would cost his state $700 million per week, which it could not provide without cutting other important services.

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Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who did not join the negotiations, accused Democrats of stalling aid to secure objectives like $1 trillion for state and local governments, which he dismissed as a bailout for “mismanaged” Democratic-led states.

The Senate unveiled its $1 trillion package late last month, around when administration officials began negotiating with the Democrats.

“(Democrats are) willing to personally increase the pain for vulnerable families unless they get their way,” McConnell said as the Senate opened on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Lights shine from the U.S. Capitol dome prior to a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on two articles of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, U.S., December 18, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, who has led negotiations alongside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said Democrats would talk if Republicans would compromise.

“Democrats remain ready to return to the table. We need Republicans to join us there and meet us halfway,” he said.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has represented the White House in the talks, said he had not spoken to Pelosi or Schumer since Friday but was willing to meet.

“We’re prepared to put more money on the table,” he told reporters at the White House. He insisted most states would be able to execute Trump’s unemployment order within a week or two.

There are areas of agreement between Democrats and Republicans, including providing money for schools and coronavirus testing. But they remain at odds over major issues like the level of unemployment benefits and liability protections for businesses.

The expired federal benefit was $600 per week on top of state unemployment payments. Trump proposed $400.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell, David Morgan and Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and David Lawder, writing by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Andy Sullivan, Alistair Bell and Sonya Hepinstall

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