Commentary: How we should spell relief

Tribune Content Agency

The new $484 billion COVID-19 relief bill passed by Congress on April 23 takes some useful steps, but it still fails to deliver substantive relief to tens of millions of Americans. Our leaders must do better, and quickly.

What’s needed is a relief package that matches the scale of the economic disaster now hitting American families. It needs to be far-reaching, and tailored to help those who need it most.

Here is some of what the next COVID-19 relief package should include:

Long-term cash assistance. The $1,200 payments now going to some Americans are not even enough to cover a single month’s rent in Phoenix, let alone in pricier cities like New York or Los Angeles. With 27 million U.S. jobs lost in just the last few weeks and states lagging on processing unemployment insurance claims, families need serious cash assistance. The Automatic BOOST to Communities Act — just introduced by Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Minnesota and Pramila Jayapal of Washington — would provide $2,000 to every American immediately, followed by $1,000 per month for a full year after the end of the crisis.

A bailout for Main Street, not Wall Street. The $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program, part of the first stimulus bill, was supposed to help small businesses. But while more than 70 publicly traded companies — some seemingly large and prosperous — received loans, it’s been estimated that less than one in 10 businesses owned by people of color will get this help. We must rescue the small, mom-and-pop businesses that anchor communities but don’t have an accounting staff to submit their loan applications or high-priced lawyers to restructure their debt.

Help for renters and homeowners. While many states and municipalities have a moratorium on evictions (at least for now), people around the country are still struggling to keep a roof over their heads. The economic downturn will disproportionately impact people of color who already spend more of their income on housing than white families. Congress should pass a national housing voucher program to support low- and moderate-income renters and homeowners through the next two or three years.

Aid for state and local governments. Astonishingly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has suggested that states should go into bankruptcy rather than get federal help. States, which unlike the federal government cannot print their own money, shoulder an enormous burden in funding hospitals and other vital services even as tax revenues plummet. From 2008 to 2013, state governments shed 170,000 jobs, worsening the Great Recession. Let’s not repeat this mistake.

Keep it honest. Tough, thorough oversight is needed to ensure that help goes where it’s most needed. A provision in the new stimulus bill calls for the creation of an oversight committee to monitor “efficiency, effectiveness, equity and transparency.” Future legislation must make a similar commitment. House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) is a legislative champion on this issue.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States was already suffering from a pandemic of inequality. How is it that in the world’s richest country, the people we call “essential workers” often have no paid sick leave or access to health care?

The coronavirus calls on us to rethink everything, and redouble our commitment to get real help to those who need it.



Adam Briones is economic equity director at The Greenlining Institute. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is operated by The Progressive and distributed by Tribune News Service.


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