Just like the country itself, the nation’s capital is deeply divided on nearly every critical issue. But Congress and the White House must compromise and coalesce on continuing aid for the millions of Americans facing economic calamity due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The need is intense and immediate. Unemployment was at 11.1% in June, and last week’s data suggest that the grim conditions will continue. Second-quarter gross domestic product contracted at an annual 32.9% rate, and weekly jobless claims surged to 1.43 million.
Just days after those bracing reports, the supplemental $600 on top of standard unemployment benefits expired, as did the moratorium on most evictions. The lapsing of the legislation will exacerbate the concurrent unemployment and homelessness crises and threatens to accelerate the rapid contraction (if not permanent closure) of small businesses across the U.S.
All of this comes amid a pandemic that is “extraordinarily widespread,” according to Dr. Deborah Birx, who is coordinating the White House coronavirus response. In fact, the infection rate is intensifying in most states, and despite a dramatically sped-up process, a vaccine is still months away — at best.
In May, the House passed a broad-based $3 trillion bill that includes an unemployment benefit extension, a new round of stimulus checks, aid to states and municipalities, and other items.
Meanwhile, the Republican-majority Senate has prioritized — but not passed — a $1 trillion bill, with COVID-19 liability protection a red line for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But so far GOP senators cannot find caucus agreement, let alone common ground with Democrats.
And the Trump administration is reportedly mulling more unilateral action.
None of the approaches are perfect. But all sides must compromise and avoid using the crisis as a cudgel in their narrative for the November election.
Yes, there are likely some instances when the additional $600 weekly supplement is a disincentive to return to work. But multiple studies suggest it’s a lack of work to return to that is the crux of the crisis, or the fact that some workers also are caregivers for COVID-19 patients — or have been stricken themselves.
More government workers also could join the jobless ranks because of plummeting tax revenue, making it critical for the federal government to boost state and local government aid. This is especially crucial since many government workers are on the pandemic front lines, including educators who will need more, not fewer, resources to teach amid an unprecedented upending of the educational model due to the pandemic.
Since the initial outbreak, President Donald Trump has been reluctant, or has refused outright, to acknowledge the severity of the virus and the related economic collapse. He should not compound this error with a misguided push for a payroll tax cut, as some have suggested, since that would only accelerate the decline of desperately needed tax revenue and increase the deficit spending that is a legitimate concern cited by some Republicans.
A divided society has produced a divided government. But unity must be forged — and soon. The American people need help.
©2020 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)