Today’s passage in the U.S. House of Representatives of a comprehensive COVID relief bill is an important step forward. A recovery is still far off, and the greatest risk now is that Congress will do too little, rather than too much. The pandemic has caused widespread financial pain, with people of color often hit the hardest.
Nearly a year into the COVID-19 public health and economic crisis, millions of North Carolinians are struggling to put food on the table, make rent or cover basic expenses. Nationally, at least 10 million children have a family member who is unemployed or who lacks paid work because of the pandemic.
Congress has provided some relief, but it is not enough. While the COVID relief package signed into law in December provided an urgently needed down payment, it left critical needs unmet and allowed some unemployment benefits to expire in mid-March, long before the crisis will end. The greatest risk right now is doing too little, not too much, to address the COVID-19 public health and economic crisis, which has left millions out of work and struggling to cover basic expenses, such as food, rent or mortgage, car payments, and medical costs.
North Carolinians need Congress to pass the House relief bill:
- The pandemic has caused widespread financial pain, with Black, Latinx, indigenous and immigrant households hit the hardest. Over 2.6 million North Carolinians (35%) reported it was somewhat or very difficult for their household to pay for usual expenses such as food, rent or mortgage, car payments, medical expenses, or student loans in the past seven days, according to a recent Census survey.
- The economy is still weak. The latest jobs report shows that recovery is still a long way off, with over 200,000 fewer jobs in North Carolina today than before the pandemic and a state unemployment rate in North Carolina still elevated at 6.2%.
- The virus is not yet under control, and a full vaccine rollout will take months. With many businesses still closed or operating at limited capacity to prevent the spread of the virus, millions of people are out of work and struggling.
- We’ve been here before – and we cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the Great Recession, when Congress did too little to support struggling families and the economy and cut back too soon, leading to a deeper, longer recession and undermining the strength of our economy in the years that followed.
Policymakers must move quickly to help families stay afloat and get our nation on track for an economic recovery. Key elements of the House-passed bill that will help struggling people in North Carolina include:
- Temporarily extending increased SNAP food assistance benefits and the federal eviction moratorium so that people continue to get help putting food on the table and keeping a roof overhead while the economy remains weak
- Temporarily extending federal pandemic unemployment assistance to better protect unemployed workers
- Providing housing assistance to help renters keep their homes and emergency assistance to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
- Financial assistance to help meet urgent household expenses such as utility bills and car payments, delivered through an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit for low-paid working adults, temporarily enlarging the Child Tax Credit, and making stimulus payments to individuals and families regardless of their immigration status and including adult dependents
- Improved access to affordable health coverage through enhanced premium tax credits and a new incentive for holdout states like North Carolina to expand Medicaid
- Much-needed state and local government fiscal relief, including funds to restore jobs for teachers, firefighters and other critical public employees and prevent further layoffs and cuts to core services like education and health care
The Senate should embrace this plan to provide relief to families and state and local governments and make it even stronger by extending unemployment assistance through September to avoid putting North Carolinians at risk for a lapse in benefits.
We know what works to help our neighbors and communities in North Carolina make it through this pandemic. In the coming weeks, the U.S. Senate must swiftly pass the House COVID relief bill to support the still-weak economy and millions struggling to get through this crisis.
Suzy Khachaturyan is a Policy Analyst at the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.