How much government support is required in order to address the extraordinary needs of Americans more than a half-year into the coronavirus pandemic? No one knows for sure. But everyone knows that the number is very high, and that the needs are extraordinary. Yet while both Republicans and Democrats have tried to address the financial impact of the pandemic, proposed legislation has gotten very little traction. The disconnect is profoundly distressing, since it is so obviously driven by politics. Thus, while our politicians pontificate, deflect blame and joust, Americans suffer.
The history is disturbing. In May, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed a $3 trillion relief bill. Senate Republicans ignored it. Last week, a Republican relief bill valued at $300 billion failed in the Senate. And despite universal recognition of real needs, there is no joint effort to address them.
Here is what is happening while the government dithers:
• About 884,000 people filed unemployment claims last week. As of late August, 29.6 million people were on some form of unemployment insurance. That’s nearly 20 times the 1.59 million on jobless benefits at the same time last year.
• A recent study found that 77 percent of low- to moderate-income Americans would not be able to even maintain poverty-level status for three months if their income were cut off.
• As for the small businesses that are the backbone of our economy, experts expect the end of the Paycheck Protection Program to lead to a wave of bankruptcies. Under the plan, the Small Business Administration approved more than 5.2 million loans, totaling $525 billion.
• According to estimates, nine to 17 million children are not getting enough to eat — a jump from 5.3 million children in 2019. Black and Hispanic families are hit hardest.
We need a solution — or at least significant progress toward one. But our elected leaders seem incapable of moving forward. Thus, instead of seeking compromise, and working cooperatively toward a plan that at least begins to address the frightening financial threats faced by middle- and low-income Americans, we get nothing from House and Senate leaders more than political posturing and finger-pointing. That needs to stop. Americans care less about who is to “blame” for the pandemic and more about how they are going to survive it. And in order for many of them to survive, they need federal government assistance.
At this point, we are less concerned whether the relief takes the form of a reinstatement of supplemental unemployment insurance payments, a second round of stimulus checks, targeted payments or tax breaks for negatively impacted businesses or rent relief arrangements for those threated with eviction. What is important is that the relief effort restart somewhere. But to do that, Congress needs to act.
We have elected our leaders to lead. It is time for them to do so. The financial well-being of millions of Americans depend on it.