On the same day we learned that the U.S. economy contracted by 9.5 percent in the second quarter of this year, the U.S. Senate adjourned and went home, even though the economic contraction is the largest since growth data has been collected. They left without passing the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act. They left without continuing the $600-per-week emergency assistance for those out of work because of COVID-19. They left without meaningful action, although another 1.434 million people had filed unemployment claims, an announcement that was made the same day that they fled Washington. Hopefully, if they help constituent service hours in their home states, they will be greeted with resounding boos.
The economic bad news is staggering. According to the Census, more than a third of all low-income households did not have enough food in July. The number was higher for Black and brown families, at about 40 percent. Hundreds of thousands of businesses have closed — with more than 40 percent of black-owned businesses being shuttered, some permanently. And there is still no coronavirus vaccine.
One is expected sometime in 2021. Until then, the economy will continue to be a mess, and the Senate is taking a break. They took off Friday, July 31, and planned to reconvene on Tuesday, Aug. 4. But in the face of an emergency, they might have foregone a long weekend to pass the HEROES Act in some form or another.
That’s the rub, though. Republicans think the $3 trillion relief is too much. They don’t want unemployed people to get a federal subsidy of $600 per week. They want people to waive their right to sue employers. They don’t think the federal government should help reopen schools. And rather than sit down with Democrats and work toward a compromise, they stumbled home.
While too many people are hungry, broke, and out of work, the Senate is short on solutions, mainly because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to work amicably with the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And if the economic bad news is not enough, the political news is equally dire. The president has gone on a mindless rampage, suggesting that elections should be postponed because he does not believe that mail ballots are secure. Thankfully, the usually spineless Republicans pushed back hard with even McConnell asserting that there will be an election on Nov. 3, 2020. This president considers the economy his strong suit, but with the economy stumbling, he needs to create some distraction. His resistance to having an orderly election is such a distraction.
The challenge is that the economy is likely to worsen before it gets better, and the coronavirus deaths, already at more than 150,000, are expected to grow. Cities and states will continue to have budget challenges. Too many children will learn little since distance learning requires technology that many poor households lack. Too many people will go hungry. And our “leadership” engages in bombastic and divisive rhetoric. Every reference to the “China virus” is racist and vituperative. Vintage Donald Trump!
These times are replete with contradictions. While the Senate does not want to pass the HEROES Act, it intends to restore the tax deduction for business lunches. Guess who benefits from that? Undoubtedly not the working poor. Concern for the poor is nearly nonexistent, even though the poor, especially the Black and brown poor, bear the brunt of the coronavirus.
Republicans tend to respond to recession, and one way to fight recession is to pump money into the economy. But their fear that a few poor people will get their hands on “extra” money is greater than their fear of economic recession. The economy is stumbling, and so is the Senate. And thanks to the recalcitrant Senate, too many Americans are stumbling, hungry, and broke. Things will inevitably get worse before they get better. November can’t come soon enough.
Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist.