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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.