One of the most dynamic and influential figures in American history, General George S. Patton, was famous for saying “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” These words, which were spoken 75 years ago during a time of global crisis as he led the Third Army through France and Germany, ring true today, albeit during a different kind of crisis – but which has a deadly and devastating impact if not addressed decisively.
To underline this point, last week, government GDP figures released for the second quarter of 2020 showed the U.S. economy had contracted by 10%, the biggest drop since the government began recording such highs. figures in 1947. Even more alarming, reported the Ministry of Labor. for the second week in a row, first jobless claims rose again to 1.43 million, a trend warned by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell means second quarter numbers are no accident .
Make no mistake, the coronavirus pandemic is a global crisis that no political turn can obscure. He cries out for strong action in Washington, more specifically in the US Senate.
Last Monday, July 27, the United States Senate marked 73 days since the passage of the HEROES Act (HR 6800) COVID-19 relief bill in the House of Representatives. If enacted, the HEROES Act would be Congress’ fifth response to the COVID-19 pandemic since it was declared a national emergency on January 31. On the same day, the Republican Senate leaders – without the support of their own caucus – delivered a botched, stingy, and purely partisan bill that was surprisingly inadequate to face America’s painful ordeal. Even President Trump called this “semi-irrelevant.”
At the end of last week, as 77 days turned to 78, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell failed even to put his COVID-19 relief bill to a vote. Instead, surprisingly, he suspended the Senate.
Unlike the Senate, the House debated and passed the HEROES Act on May 15, over 11 weeks ago. The HEROES Act would ensure struggling Americans – the unemployed, small businesses, local governments, and farmers, to name a few – get the ongoing support they need as we struggle to overcome COVID – 19.
Also last week, as more than 1.4 unemployed Americans applied for unemployment benefits for the first time, the Emergency Aid Congress created for them in the CARES Act ran out. Tragically, for two months, the Senate Majority Leader turned a deaf ear to these recession victims and the Fed’s warnings. President Jerome Powell, saying he wanted “a break”. Since then, the COVID-19 virus and the recession have not “stopped”, nor have the bills that American workers and the new poor have to pay for food, shelter and health care.
Loss of income and uncertainty
In Connecticut, municipal governments face lost revenue and uncertainties while simultaneously supporting expensive new utilities for first responders. Small and some large businesses, especially in retail and hospitality, as well as nonprofit programs, are losing revenue, causing layoffs and closures. Farmers are still seeing significant drops in sales and prices, and school districts and daycares are stuck in a dead end battle to reopen safely with the wrong tools.
The House took into account the bipartisan consensus of economic experts when we passed the HEROES law in May. The bill would immediately inject resources into small and medium-sized towns, schools and daycares, workers and many more to weather the storm of the global coronavirus pandemic. By ignoring the warning signs, the Senate wasted nearly ten weeks of time that should have been spent negotiating a new emergency relief plan. Instead, millions of people are now on the edge of a financial cliff as federal aid for the unemployment pandemic expires in an economy with an unemployment rate higher than the peak of the financial collapse. from 2009.
As the title of the bill suggests, the HEROES Act also included new support for the workers who made this country work. Nurses, first responders, sanitation workers, postal workers, paramedics and others have continued to go to work and deserve compensation. Many of these essential workers are part of state and local governments, which are currently in financial crisis. We need to do more to support these workers and our cities who rely on them, and the HEROES Act would.
The HEROES Act set aside $ 87.5 billion specifically for communities of less than 50,000 people, which includes all cities in the Second District of Eastern Connecticut. This is a first in federal assistance to local governments, and furthermore, these funds would arrive on a population basis, without any reorientation or reduction by the state government. The HEROES Act would also provide $ 100 billion for education, Kindergarten to Grade 12 and higher education, and $ 25 billion in assistance to the postal service.
Preserving jobs and services in the public sector was only part of the bill. HR 6800 would also make smart changes to the Small Business Administration’s emergency loan programs. This would give more flexibility to allow employers to request a loan forgiveness for 24 weeks pay instead of the current eight, eliminate any tax liability for a small business’s use of the loan proceeds for overhead costs, and more. . HR 6800 would also allow small businesses to cancel purchases of PPE and other expenses related to COVID-19.
For our agricultural economy, the HEROES Act would create a “dairy donation” program to reimburse farmers for donating their dairy products to local food aid programs, as well as increasing other nutritional aids to alleviate the burden. burden on food banks and soup kitchens. It also injects $ 25 billion into a fragile US postal service that is operating in the red just 90 days before an election that will see a record number of postal votes.
Importantly, the 630,000 members of the postal workforce remained at work, handing out stimulus checks, unemployment benefits and postal ballots, despite the risk. According to the Inspector General of the Department of Labor, 6,190 of them contracted infections with COVID-19. Under a contract with HEROES, the Senate provided no funding for nutrition (but made the “Three Martini” business lunches fully deductible) and completely stiffened state and local governments that are first line to respond to both the virus and the recession. Hospitals with besieged intensive care units have received a fraction of the help offered by the HEROES Act.
The Senate “hiatus”, which may have seemed smart to Senator McConnell months ago, now poses a malignant threat to our country’s ability to stop the virus and shorten the recession. The House gave the Senate a plan for the next bipartisan aid bill over 80 days ago when we passed the HEROES law. McConnell’s inaction has already cost our communities dearly, and any further delay will cost us even more. The Senate was always going to have a difference with the HEROES Act – this is how the legislative process works – but it is time for them to take notice of the Fed’s warnings. The President, the Republican governors and many members of the business community on the extent of the crisis which is staring us in the face.
The House is ready to move forward on a global package. Like the CARES law of last March, we are ready to conclude another bipartite agreement. We’ve been ready for 11 weeks, and this Friday actually 12.
Time is up, Senator McConnell. As General Patton said, “lead, follow or get out of the way.”
US Representative Joe Courtney, a Democrat, represents the second district in eastern Connecticut.
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