“I wish they would put themselves — the White House and Congress and everybody else making these decisions — in the shoes of us, the normal working people, who need help due to no fault of our own. I’m asking to be able to keep my apartment. To be able to live, and not live on the street. I’m not asking to be put in a golden apartment or anything. I just want to be able to live.” — Unemployed teacher Stephanie Lott, quoted in The Washington Post
Early last week, it appeared President Trump was about to sign the long-overdue — and grossly inadequate — COVID-19 relief legislation that Congress passed on Monday night. As of Christmas Eve, however, the fate of the bill remained uncertain as President Trump threatened to veto the bill unless the amount of direct payment checks were increased from $600 to $2,000.
Taking the president at his word, House leadership advanced a measure to approve the payments, but the effort was blocked.
Perhaps recognizing the almost comic callousness of his own proposal, President Trump also took issue with the inclusion of a tax deduction for the proverbial “three-martini” business lunch to benefit the wealthiest corporate executives.
Even if President Trump does sign the legislation, the incoming Biden administration should consider it nothing more than a down payment, must prioritize a more comprehensive stimulus package during its first 100 days.
After nearly eight months of delay, the legislation Congress passed is akin to sending in firefighters to clear up smoldering embers. The time for “rescue” has passed. We must now focus on rebuilding an economy that is inclusive and equitable and provides opportunity for every American.
While working-class families who have exhausted their unemployment benefits have been waiting in miles-long bread lines, the bill provides a breathtaking $1.4 billion to be is squandered on an ineffectual and pointless border wall.
While the bill provides no direct aid to states and municipalities struggling to keep police, firefighters, doctors, nurses and teachers on the payroll, it includes billions in tax deductions for the wealthiest corporations that received Paycheck Protection Program loans meant for small businesses.
On the plus side, the bill does include an extension of the eviction moratorium and rent relief, along with a desperately-needed expansion of broadband internet access for K-12 students.
Also encouraging is a revival of the Paycheck Protection Program, this time without the restrictions that prevented the funding from reaching the hardest-hit companies, including the Black-owned small businesses that form the backbone of our communities.
But no economic recovery is possible without a focus on bringing the virus under control, and the bill does almost nothing on that front. Black Americans remain are more than four times as likely as whites to be hospitalized for COVID-19, and nearly three times as likely to die. And without mandatory paid sick leave for essential workers — who are disproportionately Black and Brown — the virus will continue to spread as infected persons are forced to report to their workplaces.
Nor does the legislation provide funding or a framework for states to deliver vaccines or educate hesitant communities on vaccine acceptance. The HEROES Act, passed by the House in May, provides a framework for a comprehensive bill that not only supports working families and small businesses through the pandemic-induced recession, but also aims to end the pandemic itself through scaled-up testing, contact tracing, and treatment.
The National Urban League intends to continue pressing Congress and the incoming Biden administration to address the gaps in this legislation.
Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League.