US Congress Running Out of Time to Address COVID-19 Economic Impact

Millions of Americans are unemployed this holiday season due to the closures brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Millions more are facing economic uncertainty and concerns about access to testing and health care resources.But as the holiday season begins amid surging numbers of infections, that reality has not broken the monthslong political deadlock on Capitol Hill over addressing the financial impact of the pandemic.According to unemployment numbers released Wednesday, more than 770,000 people filed new claims last week. While that number is not close to the record high reached earlier this year at the beginning of the pandemic, it does mark the second week of rising unemployment numbers.U.S. lawmakers from both parties agree the American people need a new round of aid to address unemployment, food insecurity and access to health care. But this Thanksgiving week, lawmakers are back in their home districts, and food banks in the nation’s capital are facing record demand.Lining up for food“Pre-pandemic, we had 400,000 individuals. It’s now closer to 600,000 food-insecure individuals. So, in eight months, that number has gone up by just about 60%,” said Radha Muthiah, president and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based Capital Area Food Bank.“We see working families and individuals who were able to live and make it paycheck to paycheck before, and they had multiple jobs in their household. But now, when one or two or more of those jobs are no longer available, and they find themselves unemployed on all fronts, they’re navigating an emergency food assistance network that they never had to before,” said Muthiah.A Cars line-up as the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank distributes food outside a church during the outbreak of COVID-19 in Los Angeles, California, Nov. 19, 2020.Programs endingWithout a deal on a new round of aid, two key programs are set to lapse December 26.According to an analysis by The Century Foundation think tank, 7.3 million people will lose their benefits when the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program expires, and 4.6 million will lose their benefits when the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program lapses at the end of the year.Student debt relief and a national eviction moratorium are also set to expire at year’s end. The lapse in eviction relief is estimated to impact as many as 30 million people, according to an Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., flanked by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., left, and Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 17, 2020.McConnell responded last week, saying, “Senate Republicans have voted multiple times to send hundreds of billions of dollars for schools, small businesses, health care, and laid-off workers. If Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer had not made the calculation to block it, that money could have been out the door many weeks ago. Instead, our Democratic colleagues have spent months holding all of that urgent help hostage over unrelated left-wing wish-list items.”When the Senate and House return to Washington following a holiday break on Monday, lawmakers will have just 15 days left in session this year and a packed legislative schedule. They are facing a battle over renaming military bases named for Confederate generals and a December 11 expiration of government funding.Surging coronavirus casesEven with several promising vaccine candidates poised for distribution in the new year, Americans are still facing a grim winter.The United States reached 12.4 million confirmed COVID-19 infections this week and more than 250,000 deaths, according to statistics from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The United States has also been facing daily high numbers of cases in recent days, with the number of infections expected to surge as people travel for the Thanksgiving holiday.Muthiah said the economic impact of the pandemic will be long-lasting.“The need is not likely to disappear in the next three or four months. We’ve seen this need continuing easily for 12 to 24 months,” she said. 

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