$900 billion pandemic relief package better than nothing, but far from enough

The door to additional federal relief will be closed if the Senate remains in Republican control next year.

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President-elect Joe Biden, seen here getting a COVID-19 vaccination on Monday, has called a bipartisan pandemic relief deal reached over the weekend “just the beginning.”

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If Republicans in Washington have it their way, $600 pandemic relief checks, each bearing the signature of President Donald Trump, will make their way into the hands of hundreds of thousands of voters in Georgia before two U.S. Senate runoff races on Jan. 5.

For many Republican leaders, the whole point of the relief checks is to pump up support for the GOP candidates in those two races, which will decide which party controls the Senate for at least the next two years.

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That’s politics. Democrats, if the situation were reversed, would do more or less the same. The sad irony, though, is that the checks are included in an approximately $900 billion pandemic relief package that is woefully inadequate for the job at hand, yet the door to additional relief will be closed if the Senate remains in Republican control.

Whatever further relief the next president, Joe Biden, might propose is sure to be shot down by a Republican Senate that is newly concerned — all of a sudden — about federal deficits.

It’s difficult not to support this bipartisan $900 billion deal, which was approved by Congress late Monday. People and businesses need any help they can get right away. But let’s understand what a poor response to a global crisis it really is.

Help vanishes in March

Federal unemployment benefits are to be continued for about 11 more weeks, at a level of $300 a week. Then, on March 14, those benefits will disappear. But there is no chance the economic crisis created by the pandemic, which has thrown nearly 4 million Americans out of work for more than six months, will have eased significantly by then.

Vaccines have arrived, thankfully, but experts say they won’t be widely distributed until summer or next fall. Restaurants, bars and other small businesses won’t be throwing open their doors and calling back workers until then.

No help to states or cities

The bipartisan relief package also fails to include any direct assistance to state and local governments. Nobody wants Congress to bail out states for fiscal problems of their own making —we’re thinking of you, Illinois — but the pandemic has devastated state finances across the nation.

“At a time when the people need state government the most, state governments are being forced to decide what services to cut because the federal government won’t step up in the way only they can,” Jordan Abudayyeh, press secretary to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, told us. “Don’t fall for the rhetoric that this is just blue states asking for a bailout. Texas has said their budget is decimated, Florida’s governor likened their budget scenario to the red wedding scene from ‘Game of Thrones.’”

Too little and late

As for those income-based $600 checks, they are just half of the $1,200 in relief distributed to individual Americans through last spring’s CARES Act, and experts predict they won’t do much at all to help families or lift the economy. Not at a time when COVID-19 infection rates are at record highs, and vaccines are just beginning to be rolled out.

So it goes when politics and appearances prevail over doing what’s best.

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