Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is relevant these days with Congress playing the role of Scrooge before he was visited by the Christmas spirits. Dickens was greatly concerned about the plight of children forced to work under dreadful conditions. He was outraged by the widespread societal injustices that played a role in creating a high level of poverty.
Fast forward to today. The failure of the Trump Administration to deal with the coronavirus in a timely and adequate manner has greatly and unnecessarily increased the suffering of the U.S. population. So far in the U.S., there have been over 18 million people confirmed as having COVID-19 and over 320,000 people have died from the virus.
Because of rapid and widespread infections, many state and local governments felt forced to take the drastic step of closing non-essential businesses. These closings resulted in many businesses shutting down permanently and hit people who had few financial resources incredibly hard. Millions of people are facing job loss, eviction, foreclosure, homelessness, food insecurity, bankruptcy and a loss of health care, among other things.
In March, Congress passed the terribly misnamed CARES Act that primarily bailed out banks and large corporations. There were also lesser amounts in the act that provided short-term relief for the public including an up to $1200 stimulus for qualifying adults and $500 for dependent children under 17 years old, but these measures have expired or are close to expiring. Congress and the White House treated the super wealthy very well, whereas the relief for the average person was short-term. After taking care of the interests of the wealthy, for many months Congress and the White House provided no additional relief for the vulnerable populations struggling to survive.
The Republican-led Senate wouldn’t consider the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act passed by the House of Representatives in May. This act provided funding for state and local governments and it also extended unemployment benefits and other direct aid to individuals. However, the Senate balked at the cost of the bill. Negotiations went nowhere from May through November. In October, the House passed a slimmed down $2.2 trillion version of the act whereas the Republican-led Senate countered with relief efforts less than $600 billion.
Finally, Congress passed a compromise emergency relief bill that will cost $900 billion. Some key pieces include a one-time stimulus payment of up to $600 to qualifying adults and their dependent children and $300 in unemployment benefits for up to 11 weeks. About $284 billion is targeted for the Paycheck Protection Program to aid small businesses with forgivable loans. Another key component in the bill is that the federal eviction moratorium was also extended until January 31, 2021.
It is unconscionable that Congress, after passing the CARES Act in March, didn’t act to help the public until now with a bill that is too little and too late. We the people must work to change this system to one where Congress puts the public need over that of the wealthy. Instead of accepting the current rigged game that leads to obscene wealth inequality and poverty, we must campaign for a system consistent with the teachings of the one whose birth we are celebrating on Christmas.