While Congress debates whether to give Americans $600 or $700 each in a coronavirus aid package — approximately half the amount they received earlier this year — new unemployment numbers show that Americans are out of work far above levels seen in other recessions, and since the summer millions of Americans have entered into poverty.
Despite that, Congress has not issued direct cash payments to Americans since $1,200 checks were distributed in April. Instead, the Senate and House have gone back and forth on different proposals for aid packages throughout the fall without reaching a consensus.
Meanwhile, President Trump has appeared to do little to push Sen. McConnell and other Republicans to agree to a higher number except to say in an interview with Fox News on Sunday, “Right now, I want to see checks going for more money than they’re talking about going to people.” One would think, given his power to drag the bulk of his party into his attempt to retroactively steal the 2020 election he lost, Trump could do more to ensure those big checks go out. But Trump, as per usual, has reserved his powers of persuasion for his favorite cause: himself.
Now, an agreement seems to be near, and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have said they are all focused on finalizing a deal before Congress recesses for the holidays. But in the meantime, almost eight million Americans have entered into poverty, and 935,000 people filed new unemployment claims last week, according to new numbers from the Department of Labor released on Thursday. Jobless claims are on the rise as states implement new restrictions on businesses to curb the skyrocketing numbers of Covid-19 cases. There is some good news, however, that the unemployed will receive $300-per-week in supplemental payments.
Still, to give most Americans only $600 or $700 per person during this historic pandemic and economic slump is the equivalent of putting a BandAid on a bullet wound. That amount of money will hardly be much help to people who are months behind on rent and facing eviction. It’s especially galling because the $900 billion aid package will likely be one of the largest stimulus bills in our history, but the majority of it will not go directly to the working-class. The draft bill also includes bailouts for the airline industry.
Sen. Bernie Sanders has fought in favor of $1,200 payments for adults and $500 for children. He tweeted on Tuesday, “Congress can’t go home for the Christmas holidays until we pass legislation which provides a $1,200 direct payment to working-class adults, $2,400 for couples and $500 for kids.” Sanders and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced an amendment in the Senate with those numbers. And, Time reports, that their efforts are the reason Congress is even considering direct payments to Americans now, although at a lower amount.
Sanders said on MSNBC Wednesday that he is happy that Americans will at least be getting some help, but he believes it is not enough. “I’m glad we’re at some $600 per working-class adult and $600 for the kids. For a family of four, that would be $2,400, which I think will be pretty good news during this rather bleak Christmas period,” Sanders said, adding, “But we have got to do more.”