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US Senate COVID-19 relief package falls dramatically short of what nation needs

Laura Mortenson
Jul 28, 2020
Millions of people across the country are suffering and having a hard time just getting by. In the face of the greatest economic crisis of our lifetimes, bold action is needed to alleviate hardship and prevent a deeper and longer recession.

The Senate relief package – called the HEALS Act is inadequate to meet the challenges of this moment and is too small to jumpstart our economy. Instead of prioritizing the health and well-being of Americans and building for an economic recovery, the Senate plan falls short and would result in more kids going hungry and at risk of becoming homeless, force more lay-offs of teachers and other state and local government workers, and cause harmful cuts to health care, education, and other urgently needed services. 

The number of people struggling to get enough to eat has increased dramatically, and a huge number of people are falling behind on rent. In this country, 7 million children live in a household that is behind on rent, and between 8 million and 15 million children live in households that could not afford to get enough to eat. The pandemic and economic crisis is exacerbating long-standing racial disparities, and our country’s Black, Latino, and immigrant households have been hit especially hard.

More Minnesotans are not getting enough to eat. Here in Minnesota, 326,000 adults reported their households sometimes or often don’t have the food they need. This is a dramatic increase compared to before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

More Minnesotans need a hand to access affordable health care. Minnesota’s managed care Medicaid enrollment numbers increased 13.6 percent between February and July 2020. That’s nearly 124,000 more Minnesota friends and neighbors who have turned to Medical Assistance (Minnesota’s Medicaid) for help accessing health care during these difficult times.

State and local government revenue shortfalls threaten education, health care, and other essential services, and could contribute to greater job loss and a deeper recession. States face an estimated $555 billion in revenue shortfalls over the next few years as a result of the economic downturn, at the same time that more of their residents are falling on hard times.

These dire new statistics underscore why the U.S. Senate’s recently released COVID-19 relief package falls far short of what is needed to address extremely high levels of hardship and job losses larger than at any time during the Great Recession. Among the most serious shortcomings of the Senate package are:

  • It fails to take strong action to increase food assistance through SNAP for the millions of Americans who don’t have enough to eat, yet it would increase subsidies for corporate executives’ meals by doubling the tax deduction for business meals.
  • Instead of maintaining the expanded Unemployment Insurance that has been a lifeline for jobless workers and local communities, the Senate package would cut it dramatically and replace it with a hard-to-administer alternative that likely would further delay getting assistance into the hands of jobless workers and their families. 
  • It takes no real meaningful action to address the looming eviction and homelessness crisis.
  • It fails to provide meaningful support for health care and other essential services at the state and local government levels, and provides inadequate support to schools.
We call on our Minnesota Congressional delegates to act quickly to ensure struggling Minnesotans can get and stay healthy, and have what they need to get through this economic crisis. They should take bold action to ensure that COVID stimulus legislation includes the following:

  • A stronger extension of expanded federal unemployment insurance, including the additional $600 weekly boost, that continues as long as unemployment remains high. 
  • Robust federal funding to states, localities, tribal nations, and U.S. territories so that they can meet the health, safety, and financial security needs of their residents, and teachers and other public workers can stay employed. This should happen through direct aid and through increased funding for health care through the federal share of Medicaid.
  • A 15 percent increase for food assistance through SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. This is a win-win approach that helps families put food on the table and stimulates spending in grocery and other community stores.
  • A boost to the incomes of lower-income workers and families through temporary expansions of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.
  • Additional housing assistance to help folks stay in their homes, make shelters safer, and provide temporary hotel-based housing for those who need it.
  • An inclusive approach to economic stimulus payments that includes immigrants, teenagers and young adults, and adults with disabilities who were left out of the first round of stimulus payments sent in April.