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Bonus payment for out of work Americans is essential

The Millerton News Editorial

There’s no escaping it — the average American worker has been put out of work by the coronavirus — with roughly 30 million U.S. residents currently receiving unemployment benefits. The reality is COVID-19 has crippled our country’s economy, yet Congress has been battling it out over the extension of desperately needed federal aid like bonus unemployment benefits, not to mention an eviction moratorium, to those who so urgently need them. It’s up against a deadline this week.

When the pandemic shut down much of this country in mid-March, Congress somehow managed to put aside its differences and approve a $600-per week emergency payment for all unemployed workers, in addition to their traditional unemployment benefits, distributing hundreds of billions of dollars to Americans put out of work by COVID-19. That was crucial to making sure our newly unemployed could survive the economic hard times resulting from the pandemic — and no crystal ball seems able to predict how long the hard times will last. 

With the nation continuing to battle coronavirus hotspots in states like Florida, California and Texas, and outbreaks continuing to pop up in all corners of the globe, the virus is by no means contained and the economy is by no means close to recovering. 

Yet on Friday, July 31, the emergency jobless benefits will expire. By press time, on Tuesday, July 28, Senate Republicans had proposed a $1 trillion stimulus package, but at a reduced rate of $200 a week, with workers later receiving benefits at 70% of their previous wages. Democrats want to keep the $600 payments, part of their $3 trillion stimulus package, till the end of the year.

This is critical aid for people who would clearly rather be working, but can’t, because the jobs just aren’t there. Why? Society isn’t ready to fully reopen yet. It just isn’t safe to do so. Virus numbers are still surging, with a reported 4,435,113 positive cases and 150,515 reported deaths in the U.S. alone as of July 28. The numbers worldwide are more startling: 16,689,523 positive cases and 657,502 deaths reported as of the 28th. 

On Sunday morning television, July 26, White House officials did speak of negotiating on the broader bill, perhaps after Congress returns from its August recess. But Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday that Republicans are stalling. 

“This is an emergency,” she said, calling the delay “a tactic in order to not honor our other responsibilities.”

Republicans, including White House Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow, who spoke on Sunday to Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said the GOP wants to send another $1,200 stimulus check to all American families, as do Democrats. But, he said, the $600-per week unemployment bonus is too generous, and disincentivizes people from going back to work. 

The $200-per week bonus is better, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows agreed, claiming it’s not enough to “pay people to stay home.” What some Republicans don’t seem to understand is not everyone has a job to go to right now — they’re not staying home because they’re being lazy. Millions of people have lost their livelihoods due to the pandemic — business have shuttered in towns zigzagging across America. Just look around locally — stores are closing, workers are losing their jobs, neighbors are losing their homes, families are struggling to put food on the table. It’s not a pretty picture — in fact, it’s fairly bleak. We need to put money into people’s pockets so they can survive from day to day. People must be able to pay rent, pay for child care, buy food, buy gas, buy prescriptions, pay utilities, pay other bills and pay for emergencies. God forbid they or someone in their family gets sick. That costs money, too. 

Do lawmakers really want to be responsible for sending workers out into the salt mines too soon, before it’s safe? We’ve seen it too many times already: Businesses like restaurants and bars reopen in a community, people go out to dine and party and infection numbers spike. It’s a deadly pattern that we should learn from, and quickly, before more lives are lost.

Then there are the workers who don’t have the luxury of staying home. Our front line workers, bless them, are venturing out, risking their health and safety, to work in medical offices and hospitals, labs and nursing homes. They’re working at fire departments and police departments, 9-1-1 call centers and homeless shelters. Then there are our grocery store workers, our pharmacists, our gas station workers, our mechanics, our lawn care and property maintenance workers and our utility workers. Veterinarians are working, farmers are working, bankers are working, postal workers and delivery people are working. There are too many essential workers to list, as we’re sure to forget some; for that we apologize. To all of you, thank you. You have no idea how greatly your services are appreciated.

We hope the president and Congress will extend substantive federal aid until the pandemic lets up and America can safely return to work. We’ll have to see if there is any progress on extending the eviction moratorium; Republicans seemed to be on board but then stepped back from helping renters and appeared willing to help only homeowners. It does look like unemployment bonuses will continue — how much they will be worth is another matter — something in the neighborhood of $600 versus $200 would be ideal. How else can this country survive? The clock is ticking. Let’s hope Congress does the right thing.

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