Millions of Americans continue to suffer as a result of the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus crisis, with the number rising every day, and for months now Congress hasn’t been able to get it together long enough to provide the help they need.

Still, there is hope that a deal can be reached — if Republicans are serious about reaching one.

The Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans in the House of Representatives, unveiled this week the framework for a $1.5 trillion relief package.

It’s more than the roughly $300 billion bill forwarded by Senate Republicans but blocked by Democrats last week, and it’s smaller than either the $3 trillion passed by House Democrats in May or the $2.2 trillion package they recently offered as a compromise.

President Trump on Wednesday signaled his support for the new proposal, saying he wanted “something like that” and that Republicans should approve a bill with “much higher numbers” than they were offering.

With the election looming, the president has every reason to push for a substantial relief package, as do the members of Congress who face tight races this November.

But many Republicans seem content to do nothing, convinced as they are that the problems with unemployment and state revenues are caused, respectively, by laziness and overspending, not the historic loss of economic activity from a public health crisis.

The proposal from the Problem Solvers Caucus includes another round of stimulus checks to help all Americans. It features enhanced unemployment for people who are out of work, along with automatic boosters and reducers based on COVID metrics, so if things get worse, people will get more aid, and vice versa.

The plan has $500 billion in much-needed aid to maintain services and prevent layoffs in local and state government, as well as billions for schools, child care and higher education. It includes $100 billion for COVID testing, and more funding for small businesses through the PPP program.

It is not enough to cover all the losses caused by the pandemic. Many industries have taken a hit, and some whole sectors have been shut down indefinitely. Unemployment remains higher than at any point during the Great Recession.

As a result, more and more Americans are falling into poverty. In Maine, demand for state food assistance, financial aid and rent relief spiked in August, as the relief passed previously by Congress expired. Food pantries across the state saw a huge increase in demand in August as well, and expect that hunger will grow by at least 40% this year as Mainers are forced to cut back on even the essentials, portending something much worse in the near future.

The Trump administration’s eviction moratorium is not enough to stop the growing housing crisis, and the president’s attempt to buttress unemployment aid comes up short too.

With this crisis, it’s impossible to see too far into the future. But it’s likely that it’s ultimately going to take more than $1.5 trillion — or even $2.2 trillion, or $3 trillion — to cover the losses caused by COVID-19 and keep the economic downturn going longer and deeper than it has to.

There are, however, a lot of people hurting right now who need help as soon as possible. They can’t wait for the election to know whether they’ll have help with food or shelter.

Congressional Democrats already have shown a willingness to compromise on the size of the next relief package. The Problem Solvers Caucus proposal shows there are areas where reasonable people can agree.

The question is, are the Senate Republicans willing to be reasonable, or are they content to watch Americans suffer needlessly?

 

 


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