Despite promises that help would “go out the door immediately,” Americans are still waiting on economic relief. Of course, not all of the blame rests on Biden’s shoulders — if it were up to Mitch McConnell, for example, we probably wouldn’t be getting anything at all. However, now that the Democrats essentially have as much power as they’re willing to use, that’s not as much of an excuse.
As if the wait alone isn’t bad enough, it seems as though less help is coming than what we were initially led to believe as well. First, the Democrats backed down on the size of the survival checks, and now it turns out that Biden is saying that the $15 minimum wage that was supposed to be part of the next relief bill “likely isn’t happening” either. One wonders whether the meeting with Jamie Dimon and “other leading business executives” may have had anything to do with that.
Another major let-down is Biden’s proposal to subsidize COBRA payments for those who lost work during the pandemic. As Andrew Perez wrote for The Daily Poster:
“Instead of enacting a universal Medicare for All health care system that would save the United States and its citizens hundreds of billions of dollars annually, temporarily expanding Medicare or championing a promised ‘public option,’ Democrats are rallying behind a health care proposal that will funnel tens of billions of dollars to corporate health insurance companies even as they are already experiencing record profits and jacking up premiums, while continuing to deny claims.”
Democrats are also apparently “embracing” a risky plan that could end in “billions of dollars in cuts” to Medicare and other programs. According to Politico, “top Democrats are already shrugging off the threat, insistent that Congress will once again act in time,” but I, for one, am not so sure that I share their optimism.
On the subject of unwarranted optimism, there are those who are seemingly failing to grasp the urgency of the situation. For instance, there was a headline from The Hill making the rounds on social media recently which read: “Study: $1,400 stimulus checks would help 22.6 million pay bills through mid-July.” Some would like to use such information to imply that things are looking up, but that is actually a tiny fraction of the population, and many more than that are facing hardship. In December 2020, it was projected that 54 million people in the US would be experiencing food insecurity by the end of the year, 18 million of those being children.
The study that the article in The Hill references does say that those who are worse off will need “additional financial help,” but suggests that “stimulus checks are too blunt of a tool for them,” and recommends extending unemployment benefits instead. That may not be a bad idea, however, considering that many of the businesses which closed during the pandemic won’t be reopening, it seems like something more will be needed. Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell says that the “real unemployment rate” is close to 10%, and that “We are still very far from a strong labor market whose benefits are broadly shared.” Other estimates suggest that the number may be even higher, perhaps almost twice the rate quoted by Powell. Whatever the case may be, just letting those who are unable to find work due to either business closures or pandemic concerns slide further into poverty will do nothing to help the economy.
Even before 2020 and the pandemic, many Americans were struggling. In 2017, it was reported that 78% of workers in the US were living paycheck to paycheck. That same year, another report showed that 57% of Americans didn’t “have enough cash to cover a $500 unexpected expense.” The pandemic didn’t cause our current economic woes itself, it exacerbated existing problems. As William Pesek wrote in Forbes, “The coronavirus shock is a once-in-a-century health shock layered atop a devastating trade war, on top a global financial system still recovering from the earlier 2008 global crisis.” As he further points out, “you can’t apply conventional tools to a wildly unconventional crisis.” Status-quo solutions won’t do the trick here, not that they ever really have. Some members of Congress, such as Rep. Ro Khanna, have expressed support for monthly checks, which would help the unemployed as well as those who may be working, but are still living paycheck to paycheck.
While we may be on our own for now, there are many who are doing what they can through mutual aid. If you need help or would like to get involved yourself, mutualaidhub.org has a map with links to organizations around the country.