Some much-needed aid to Americans of all stripes is finally on its way. Or perhaps not quite yet. But probably, soon, although how much is still up in the air.
In this, the most-prosperous nation on earth, the lack of support for those hurt most by the pandemic has been appalling. An early spirit of cooperation among elected officials produced the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act in March, featuring a robust package of assistance for businesses — though probably not enough oversight on targeting that aid — a boost to unemployment payments and one-time $1,200 checks to working Americans.
However, since that bill was passed, Congress has been unable or unwilling to step up with more help, even as the unemployment boost lapsed, the support of the Paycheck Protection Program ran out, and cases of the virus began swelling again in states that resumed too much activity, too quickly. One impediment has been the continuing stance of too many of our elected “leaders” that the pandemic is anything but serious; that it’s a hoax, or that the nation’s economy will rebound if everyone would stop worrying about this deadly virus and go on about their business.
After months and months of inaction, ineffective governing and posturing, Congress agreed to a second stimulus bill just before Christmas, a far-less robust $908 billion package featuring a one-time payment of $600 to most adults, a second round of paycheck assistance for small businesses, and 10 weeks of a $300 bonus in unemployment assistance.
Yet after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin signed off on the bill on behalf of his administration, President Trump threw a hissy fit over the deal in a tweet, saying the package should have granted individual payments of $2,000 instead of $600. After making noise for a few days, he signed the bill as passed on Sunday. But his tweets emboldened Democrats, who had favored a larger stimulus package all along, to revisit the amount of those checks.
The House passed an immediate measure to up the amount to $2,000, and even some Republicans in the Senate have argued to go with that amount. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused Tuesday to allow a vote on the measure. Facing a vote on two Senate seats in Georgia next month that could swing Senate control to the Democrats, he may eventually cave, not wanting Senate Republicans to appear the bad guys in all this. But he also wants to exact more concessions from the Democrats for big corporations.
So it’s anyone’s guess when the stimulus, already agreed to and signed, will actually reach those in need. Mnuchin has said the Treasury can start sending out checks within days. Yet to be determined is whether Trump, after having stayed away from the entire process as he sulked about his election loss before weighing in on the bill after the fact, will insist the payments again bear his signature, as if the money is coming from him.
For his part, President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to push for more stimulus packages once in office, though whether he can achieve that goal is largely dependent on the Democrats winning those two Georgia Senate seats.
But Biden is right that what’s been made available is inadequate. Soon after the CARES Act was passed, it became readily apparent that more was needed. But as Democrats pushed to go big, McConnell refused to engage on the topic until recently. And when Republicans have addressed it, they’ve refused to budge on key points, including help for state and local governments that have lost billions in tax revenue during the economic shutdown, but which have continued to offer assistance to individuals in need.
That resulted in a deal Democrats agreed to only to get SOMETHING out to workers and businesses in danger of going under, with the hope that under Biden, they can revisit the issue again soon.
We hope they’re able to. This pandemic is real, it’s hurting most segments of the economy still, and it’s not close to being over.