$600 Isn’t Nearly Enough—We Need Real Relief

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Source: In These Times

Across the coun­try, busi­ness­es and work­places remain shut­tered due to the U.S. government’s abysmal response to the pan­dem­ic. The eeri­ly qui­et streets stand as a reminder of the mil­lions of our fel­low cit­i­zens left to fend for them­selves in the midst of the ongo­ing cat­a­stroph­ic health and eco­nom­ic crises.

By now, the $1,200 check from back in April is long gone. So is the addi­tion­al $600 per week unem­ploy­ment boost. Yet peo­ple are still not back at work — as we knew they wouldn’t be. We knew of the mount­ing evic­tion cri­sis with rent going unpaid. We knew that the mil­lions who sur­vived the virus would emerge with moun­tains of med­ical debt. We knew that those fam­i­lies and friends who lost loved ones would drown in their grief and be buried by the bur­den of the lost income for their house­holds. We knew all of this, and we know it now.

And yet the pro­po­nents of the cur­rent bipar­ti­san Covid-19 relief bill want us all to engage in mag­i­cal think­ing. They want us to believe, despite what we know, that a $600 cash pay­ment can some­how erase nine months of stress, grief, unpaid rent, hos­pi­tal­iza­tion bills, med­ica­tion and mount­ing cred­it card debt. The pal­try, means-test­ed cash pay­ments in the cur­rent bill mis­di­rect our atten­tion from the true intend­ed recip­i­ents of relief and recov­ery — the stock market.

The new bill includes over $110 bil­lion in tax breaks for spe­cif­ic indus­tries such as motor­sports enter­tain­ment. Big cor­po­ra­tions stand to ben­e­fit enor­mous­ly. There’s even a ​three-mar­ti­ni lunch” tax deduc­tion for cor­po­rate meal expense tucked into the leg­is­la­tion. It took a threat by Bernie Sanders and his col­leagues in the House to even extract the measly $600 in direct pay­ments. Can you recall any such fight over tax give­aways to cor­po­rate America?

This is not a true relief pack­age. Relief would mir­ror the eco­nom­ic response of oth­er west­ern indus­tri­al­ized nations, where work­ing peo­ple either receive reg­u­lar month­ly pay­ments or are guar­an­teed up to 80% of their pre-Covid income. A real relief bill would have can­celed mort­gage and rental debt. Real relief would have includ­ed the expan­sion of Medicare and Med­ic­aid to cov­er all med­ical debt result­ing from the cri­sis. Con­gress knows that the bill won’t solve the prob­lems of a house­hold fac­ing upwards of $6,000 in unpaid rent. They just hope it’s enough to dis­tract from the utter lack of care and com­pas­sion shown to peo­ple who have made incred­i­ble sac­ri­fices to keep oth­ers safe.

The words ​stim­u­lus” and ​relief” being used inter­change­ably, and the focus on how much indi­vid­u­als might receive in checks, has sewn a bit of con­fu­sion. We should be clear: This is a stim­u­lus for cor­po­ra­tions and their share­hold­ers and investors. Just look at the stock mar­ket, which swung upwards upon news of the deal this week.

The stock mar­ket is not the econ­o­my. We are. Pres­i­dent-elect Biden has stat­ed that he wants to get to work right away on a new relief pack­age once he takes office. He also said he wants his admin­is­tra­tion to lev­el with peo­ple while alle­vi­at­ing suf­fer­ing. To do so, he needs to help put for­ward a com­pre­hen­sive bill with the kind of relief peo­ple actu­al­ly need, elim­i­nat­ing back rent, hos­pi­tal bills and med­ical debt while putting more mon­ey in the hands of the work­ing class. And he must be will­ing to wage the kind of polit­i­cal bat­tle it will take to see it passed. The fight needs to dis­pel the illu­sion that cor­po­ra­tions are try­ing to keep alive — that their bot­tom line is the true mea­sure of the health of the economy.

It is in Biden’s best inter­est to make sure a sub­se­quent pack­age offers real relief and not just momen­tary eco­nom­ic stim­u­lus. Even with a vac­cine, most Amer­i­cans will be in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion to where we are now for most of the next year. With­out a true relief pack­age, we’ll see a cri­sis that’s hit­ting women and Black and brown folks the hard­est con­tin­ue to wors­en. That is unacceptable.


Mau­rice BP-Weeks is the co-exec­u­tive direc­tor of The Action Cen­ter on Race and the Economy.

Lau­ren Jacobs is the exec­u­tive direc­tor of The Part­ner­ship for Work­ing Families.

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