There’s one thing we can say for sure about the coronavirus relief package unveiled Tuesday by a bipartisan group of senators: It’s better than nothing.

And with negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin apparently going nowhere, and many Senate Republicans opposed to additional spending of any kind, it seems like nothing is what we are going to get, even as COVID cases surge and millions of Americans struggle to get by.

With that in mind, we’ll take the $908 billion proposal, even if that means accepting a package that falls short of what the country needs and can afford. A stimulus and relief bill could do so much more to alleviate the suffering caused by COVID-19 and set the country up for a booming recovery. But people are hurting now, and they can’t wait for help.

BIPARTISAN PROPOSAL

The proposal from the group, which includes Maine Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins, is the latest stab at a follow-up to the CARES Act, whose initiatives are either already expired or will Jan. 1. It would reinstitute enhanced unemployment at $300 a week, retroactive to Dec. 1 and through April 1. It would provide $160 billion in funding for state and local governments — a Democratic priority — and install a temporary moratorium on COVID-related lawsuits — a key point for Republicans.

It also includes $288 billion for small businesses, and billions of dollars for transportation, education, nutrition assistance and health care.

Another round of $1,200 stimulus checks is not included in the proposal.

It’s likely not enough given the circumstances. The economy is slowing again and unemployment remains high. The financial resources of millions of American households have been stretched thin, and hunger and homelessness are on the rise.

NOT ENOUGH

In just one example, restaurants and bars are looking at massive closures and layoffs in the next couple of months, and it’s not clear that the help offered by the group of senators is enough to stave it off — about 100 Maine establishments this week urged Sen. Collins to support a $120 billion grant program for independent restaurants and bars.

The restaurant program was included in the $2.2 trillion relief package passed by the House Democrats in October, but not the framework announced by the senators Tuesday.

The individual stimulus checks helped many Americans hold out through the early days of the crisis, and were a good way of propping up consumer spending while reaching people who fell through the cracks of other initiatives. Their absence would leave many people short.

And the $160 billion for state and local governments is far lower than the $500 billion sought by the bipartisan National Governors Association. A shortfall could cause the loss of jobs and valuable services. This week, Gov. Janet Mills said uninterrupted federal support is necessary to run the state’s testing and vaccination network — it’s no time to scrimp on either of those things.

MAKE A DEAL

Pelosi and Mnuchin were reportedly close before the election to a deal for a roughly $2 trillion package. Such a deal would support people and businesses through the grim months ahead. It would set the country up well for the second half of 2021, when the vaccines should have us ready to return to normal. But Republicans simply won’t go along with it, regardless of how many Americans are left hurting.

The proposal introduced this week faces a tough road itself. Later Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose support is crucial for any bill to pass, reportedly was circulating his own much smaller plan. An earlier bipartisan proposal from House members went nowhere.

But if there is going to be a deal, it seems like it has to start there.

The senators’ proposal is not perfect, and it would force this debate again in April, when the benefits would run out.

But it’s better than nothing — and for everyone wondering where the groceries or rent will come from, that’s something.

 


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