Biden’s pandemic aid bill to look like the Cares Act
The economic aid package coming from Joe Biden and the Democrats looks like the Cares Act long sabotaged by McConnell. It includes increases to Jobless benefits and a $2000 stimulus check to most adults in the U.S. | AP

WASHINGTON—Remember the Cares Act, the economic aid bill for a nation hit with a double disaster of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting depression? The measure that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., deep-sixed, twice?

Well, the economic aid package Democratic President-Elect Joe Biden is going to send to Capitol Hill after Biden takes over at noon on Jan. 20 is going to look a lot like it. The question will be if it suffers the same fate.

“We need to provide more immediate relief to families and businesses now,” Biden told a Zoom press conference on Jan. 8. “The price tag will be high”—up to $3 trillion—“but the overwhelming consensus among leading economists left, right and center” is “investing significant amounts of money right now” to keep the economy from collapsing, again.

After all, the economy is already sliding as the coronavirus is again spiking, setting a new daily death record, 4,085, in early January, and showing 374,000 people cumulatively having tested positive.

Meanwhile, the official unemployment rate for the end of 2020, released the day Biden spoke, was 6.7%, but almost double that percentage of workers were drawing state or federal joblessness checks.

Businesses shed a net of 140,000 jobs that month, and bar and restaurant jobs tanked (-498,000 jobs), due to renewed closures to prevent the plague’s community spread. Those industries also collapsed after March and never fully recovered. Neither did hotels, travel, or state and local governments, including schools. Closures closed off their tax revenues, too. The government bodies let 1.35 million workers go in 2020.

“It is necessary to spend money now,” Biden said. “With conditions like the crisis today, especially with such low interest rates, taking immediate action—even with deficit financing—is going to help the economy.”

In a Jan. 12 telephone press conference, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka agreed and added a key non-money goal: Protecting workers against the pandemic. Biden intends to.

“Worker safety is how we begin to beat the virus,” Trumka said.

“No American should ever have to choose between our health and a paycheck. That is why workers’ safety is another priority of our agenda. We will never get this pandemic under control if we cannot protect working people.

“That starts with emergency COVID-19 [coronavirus] OSHA and MSHA standards so we can protect workers from this virus,” Trumka said. Biden plans that, too. It’s a key goal of both the AFL-CIO and National Nurses United, who actually sued the current Trump-run OSHA to get a standard. They lost.

“We must also expand access to free vaccines and rapid testing, and ensure an adequate supply of PPE (personal protective equipment) by executive order and through the Defense Production Act. And it is long past time to guarantee paid sick days, paid family leave, and child care for all working people,” Trumka said.

“None of this is controversial—just common sense. More than 325,000 Americans are dead.”

While Biden has yet to roll out specific figures, both the Cares Act versions and his statements give some idea of what he’ll propose, as his first big legislation when he takes over the Oval Office:

  • $2,000-per-adult checks, although the first $600 of that is in checks presumably being sent out now from the $908 billion economic aid bill lawmakers approved in late December. Biden promised that $2,000 while campaigning for Georgia’s Democratic senatorial nominees Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock. Their narrow wins, grabbing two GOP-held seats, gave Democrats Senate control.

Some 80% of U.S. adults would get the money. But there may be a senatorial stumbling block, not named McConnell. With the wins, that chamber is split 50-50. One of the 50 Dems, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, wants to target the $2,000 checks to those who need them and spend more instead on getting anti-coronavirus vaccine shots into people’s arms.

  • Extended federal unemployment benefits. The $908 billion bill gives $300 in federal jobless benefits, on top of state jobless aid, to workers, but only through mid-March. That’s half of what weekly federal checks were before the original program, enacted last March, expired. Biden hasn’t settled on a specific figure for federal jobless aid. The Senate’s Republicans, who will be in the minority as of Jan. 20, have a simple answer: Zero.
  • Money for state and local functions, not necessarily for all government programs. Biden is considering specific sums for specific functions, such as education and child care. The overall figure has not been released.

“Now is the time to think about how we’re going to build something better,” Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten said in an e-mail, using Biden’s slogan.

The money would “build a renaissance in public education… tackle COVID-19 and”  provide money, “safety protocols and vaccines to reopen schools safely and to ensure public employees and healthcare workers get the respect and the support they need to play their essential role in America,” she added.

The first House-passed Heroes Act gave state and local governments almost $1 trillion, to use as they liked. McConnell killed it. The second version cut that in half. McConnell killed it. He still hates state and local aid and wants states—especially blue ones—to go broke.

  • Asking student loan institutions to forgive borrowers’ first $10,000 in student loan debt.
  • More money, besides the $25 billion allotted in December, to speed up the distribution of anti-viral vaccines. That’s been plagued by bottlenecks and slow deliveries. One other problem: At least one deep red state, Nebraska, refuses to vaccinate every high-risk person.

GOP Gov. Pete Ricketts, a multimillionaire, is pushing undocumented people—including undocumented workers in the state’s high concentration of meat processing plants—to the back of the line if not out.

“You’re supposed to be a legal resident of the country to be able to be working in those plants,” Ricketts said. “So I do not expect illegal immigrants will be part of the vaccine.” His dictate completely ignores the fact that undocumented and unvaccinated people are more likely to catch the virus—and spread it.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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