The top leaders in the U.S. House and Senate met Tuesday afternoon to discuss a new coronavirus relief package as demand intensified for a bill that includes direct relief for American workers and families, nine months after the federal government sent means-tested $1,200 payments to many households after passing the CARES Act.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) met as Democrats and Republicans face a disagreement over including aid for state and local governments, which Democrats have demanded, and corporate liability protections that McConnell and McCarthy insist are necessary but which critics say would allow companies to harm—even kill—their workers and costumers with impunity during the pandemic.
"Studies on the impact of the CARES Economic Impact Payments showed that within the first 10 days, households spent an average of 29 cents from every dollar received, and that the majority of their spending went towards paying for basic necessities, such as food, rent, and bills."
—Congressional Progressive Caucus
In a letter (pdf) sent over the weekend and publicized Tuesday, progressives in Congress demanded the leaders include direct payments of at least $2,000 for workers and families, as well as the return of enhanced unemployment benefits, which Republicans allowed to expire over the summer even as millions remained out of work.
Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus including Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), and Katie Porter (D-Calif.), wrote that enhanced unemployment benefits included in the CARES Act "had an enormous impact in alleviating poverty, increasing food security, replacing income, and raising aggregate spending levels that are crucial for stimulating the economy."
"Additionally, we know that direct cash payments provide real economic support for individuals and families, and they put this money right back into the economy," added the lawmakers. "Studies on the impact of the CARES Economic Impact Payments showed that within the first 10 days, households spent an average of 29 cents from every dollar received, and that the majority of their spending went towards paying for basic necessities, such as food, rent, and bills. This was especially the case for low-income individuals and households. A relief package should include direct payments of at least $2,000 for all working individuals and families."
Khanna noted that by simply following "the economic data," leaders can provide much-needed assistance to struggling families.
That’s the only way to both help Americans in need while also stimulating the economy. https://t.co/YCHeSAvWtP
— Rep. Ro Khanna (@RepRoKhanna) December 15, 2020
"We are fighting for direct cash relief because it helps people cover basic expenses like groceries and rent, in tandem with unemployment benefits," said Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) on social media. "We can't adjourn without it."
As the Congressional Progressive Caucus appealed to the leaders, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said lawmakers must listen to the demands of more than 60 grassroots groups also calling for direct cash stimulus.
Sanders on Tuesday afternoon posted to social media the groups' letter which was sent late last week to the top congressional Democrats and Republicans. The senator has repeatedly issued his own calls in recent weeks for another round of $1,200 checks for American workers, and was joined last week by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) in demanding that Congress provide the aid before going on recess.
"It is time for Congress to listen to the will of the people and pass relief for working families," Sanders tweeted.
Over 60 grassroots organizations representing millions of people are demanding Congress provide $1,200 direct payments to working-class adults and $500 to kids.
It is time for Congress to listen to the will of the people and pass relief for working families. pic.twitter.com/tazt8b9c6S
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) December 15, 2020
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The letter was signed by organizations including People's Action, Public Citizen, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and Indivisible. The groups collectively represent millions of Americans.
A poll released in September by Gallup and Franklin Templeton showed that seven in 10 Americans—including 82% of Democratic voters, 64% of Republicans, and 66% of independents—support additional relief checks.
The organizations noted that as they wrote the letter, 92 million Americans were uninsured or under-insured—a crisis that's been exacerbated by mass unemployment and the loss of employer-sponsored benefits for tens of millions of people. More than 20 million people have been unemployed since the pandemic began, they added.
"Congress cannot continue to ignore the hunger, pain, and economic uncertainty that millions of people are facing," the letter reads. "People need access to cash to survive the next round of job losses, to pay for rent and food, and to keep their families alive. In order to meet the gravity of this crisis, Congress must prioritize providing direct economic relief that families and workers desperately need right now."
As Common Dreams reported last week, millions of Americans are "headed for absolute disaster" after the new year, as the eviction moratorium put in place in September by the CDC is set to expire. Twelve million renters owe an average of $5,850 in back rent and utilities, and many landlords have begun filing eviction paperwork, according to the Washington Post.
Nearly 26 million Americans also reported having insufficient food last month, and nonprofits that run overwhelmed food banks across the country are counting on Congress to pass a Covid-19 relief bill that includes food assistance as well as direct relief for workers, millions of whom have relied on food banks for the first time in their lives this year as a result of pandemic-related job loss.
The grassroots groups' letter notes that another round of $1,200 checks is less than ideal for the millions of people who, through no fault of their own, have suffered job loss and reduced income as a result of a pandemic that Republican leaders—through months of denials of the seriousness of the crisis, dismissal of public health guidance to mitigate the outbreak, and insistence that state economies reopen—allowed to spin out of control.
"Considering the duration of the crisis, and the fact that millions of people have months of unpaid rent and bills, what would help families recover economically would be ongoing relief of $2,000 per month until this pandemic is over," the groups wrote.
Until lawmakers pass a bill that will "meet the scale of the crisis that workers and families are facing," they added, "it's clear that securing $1,200 in direct relief in the current package must be a line in the sand."
Tlaib joined Sanders in demanding that the Senate include direct payments in any relief bill it passes.
Listen to the people. Listen to those who are helping our residents the most during this crisis.
They are demanding us to include a direct payment assistance check. https://t.co/qmX5mFTJ8b
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) December 15, 2020
"Listen to the people," the congresswoman wrote. "Listen to those who are helping our residents the most during this crisis."