By Robert Reich
The Senate adjourned and left town without even trying to pass a COVID disaster relief bill. By the time they return on November 30, based on current trends, an additional estimated 16,000 Americans will have died from COVID-19.
We pay these elected officials to keep us safe, and they’ve failed us. To them I ask: How much death and suffering must the American people endure before you act?
You, Mitch McConnell, have refused to lift a finger for months, and Senate Republicans have been happy to follow your lead.
Countless Americans are now paying the price for your malicious inaction.
You should have learned lessons about COVID during its first horrific wave last spring.
First, there’s no tradeoff between COVID and the economy, and no way to get the economy back until COVID is under control. As the virus surges and more shutdowns loom, the millions of jobs we’ve added since April are about to disappear again. I’ve said this since March and I’ll say it again: The only way to get our economy back to full strength is to control the virus.
Second, more shutdowns are necessary. Businesses like Tesla in Alameda County, California, and Tyson meat packing plants in Iowa remained open during previous shutdowns, and both companies suffered COVID outbreaks. No exceptions this time around.
Third, and most importantly, shutdowns are only viable if accompanied by disaster relief so Americans can survive financially. So pass disaster relief.
Re-up expanded unemployment benefits. The extra $600/week provisioned in the CARES Act expired on July 31st, and all federal relief will expire on December 31st. Expanded unemployment benefits were a financial lifeline for millions during the first and second waves, and must be instituted again to keep millions out of poverty this winter. Don’t listen to people who claim that we have to get people back to work, or keep them working. The best way to stop the spread is to pay people to stay home.
Stop evictions and foreclosures. It would be the height of cruelty to force even more people out onto the streets in the middle of winter as the virus surges. And with more job losses around the corner, we must ensure that a missed rent or mortgage payment isn’t a death sentence.
Distribute another round of Paycheck Protection Program loans to businesses, with strict oversight to ensure the funds actually go to businesses that need them, not massive, publicly-traded companies that have plenty of other options.
Shore up state and local budgets. State and local governments are facing huge budget shortfalls. Without federal aid, vital public services are on the chopping block – schools, childcare, supplemental nutrition, mental health services, low-income housing, healthcare – when the public needs them more than ever. And local governments need funds to shelter unhoused residents, especially as temperatures drop and COVID intensifies.
Protect essential workers. Tens of thousands of workers on the frontlines have contracted COVID over the past 10 months – including nearly 20,000 Amazon warehouse workers. At a minimum, they need generous hazard pay and paid sick leave.
When the last COVID relief package was passed on March 27th, there were 18,093 new cases that day. Now, there are over 100,000 new cases every day. With hospitalizations lagging behind cases, and deaths lagging behind hospitalizations, it’s clear that this is going to get much, much worse unless people shelter in place. But most Americans can’t do this without relief.
The writing is on the wall. Do your job, Mitch McConnell. Our lives depend on it.