COVID-19 Relief Bill Stalled by Political Infighting
Congress’ focus remained on COVID-19 relief in July. Recent regional spikes in infections and more than 150,000 recorded deaths in the United States reveal that the end of the crisis remains uncertain and perhaps far in the future. More than 5 million Americans have lost their health care coverage in the first six months of 2020, and the jobs outlook remains bleak.
One area of success has been the ability of Congress to help keep the economy afloat by putting cash in people’s pockets through direct payments, federal unemployment benefits and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that has provided forgivable loans to small and medium sized businesses that were willing to keep their employees on the payroll.
But partisan divides threaten the fifth COVID relief package. The House, Senate (and factions within the Senate) and the White House were so far apart on the bill that they allowed several crucial programs, including federal unemployment benefits, to expire as of August 1.
The Democratic-led House approved a very expensive COVID bill in June. The Republican-led Senate, disliking the price tag and especially the level of federal unemployment benefits in the House bill, dismissed that legislation but failed to pass its own. At press time, negotiators remained at an impasse, despite increasing pressure to move legislation to protect American workers and the U.S. economy. The main sticking point remains the federal unemployment benefit that most Democrats want to see stay at $600 per week, but many Republicans want either to be reduced or eliminated because they feel that the benefits discourage idled workers from seeking employment.