nancy pelosi mitch mcconnell
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
Erin Schaff/Pool via AP
  • There is a lot of nonsense being spouted about the latest COVID relief package.
  • People are trying to argue that the only thing average Americans get is the $600 check, but that is not true. The package includes an array of programs that will help people most in need.
  • Boosted and extended unemployment benefits will help people who are out of work, funding for schools, transit and roads will help local governments, and there’s money for foods stamps and rental assistance — plus hundreds of billions for small businesses to keep paying workers.
  • The biggest issue right now is that many benefits will lapse in the next few days, so the bill needs to be signed now. It is not time to reopen negotiations to get President Trump’s desired $2,000 checks in the package.
  • On behalf of all Americans in need: just make the damn bill a law.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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I have had it with the nonsense that so many people are spouting about the much-needed COVID relief package that President Donald Trump is, at least implicitly, threatening not to sign into law.

Specifically, I have had it with the meme that the package is “just $600.”

Direct payment checks are a significant component of this package, just as they were a significant component of the CARES Act, but they’re not the main one. They make up only about one-sixth of the cost. And before you say “well that’s the part that goes to people,” stop, because you’re wrong. This bill is full of other programs that provide essential support to ordinary people, focusing on people who have faced particular hardship due to the COVID crisis.

The characterization of this package as “just $600” has obscured all the good the package can do if it becomes law, and all the harm that will come to particularly vulnerable people if it does not. Most importantly, if this bill doesn’t become law by Saturday, 14 million Americans will lose unemployment benefits they have been relying on. This isn’t a game

What else does the package do? It provides hundreds of billions of dollars to small businesses on the condition that they keep employees on their payroll, through the Paycheck Protection Program. This is another area where critiques of our relief approach have been self-contradictory. We hear the US “isn’t doing” payroll support like other countries are – except we are doing it, that’s what PPP is – and then we hear complaints that PPP payments go to employers, even though that is an inherent characteristic of payroll support.

The package also contains $13 billion to increase SNAP (food stamps) benefits and $25 billion for rental assistance.

It contains financial support for various institutions so they can keep paying people and providing services. There's $82 billion in education aid, to help school districts keep staff on the payroll, and help public colleges avoid huge tuition hikes.

There's $14 billion to help transit systems stave off service cuts, and $10 billion for state highway departments that have been battered by low gas tax revenue. Even the $15 billion in airline aid - not my favorite part of the package - is saving jobs, because airlines have to bring employees back onto their payrolls in order to receive them. American Airlines and United Airlines have announced recalls of 32,000 furloughed workers in expectation that the bill will become law.

The bill also provides billions of dollars to enable the distribution and administration of vaccines that will save lives and make it possible to reopen the economy. 

All told, the bill adds to 4 percent of GDP, making it one of the largest fiscal support packages ever enacted in the US. Far from being crumbs, it provides tremendous support to the labor market and the workforce to help people continue supporting their families and keep businesses in business so they can rehire and expand once virus conditions allow them to do so.

Let's be clear about the checks

Yes, I know, you would like the checks to be larger. "Why can't we be like other countries?" you might ask. Why can't we send everybody $2,000 a month, like Canada did? That's a good question. Actually wait, it's not a good question, because Canada didn't do that.

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit was a program that paid residents 500 Canadian dollars weekly ($389) if they were out of work. Most Canadians weren't eligible for the payment. And when Canada enhanced its unemployment benefit, we enhanced ours too, by more. (CERB has since run out and has been succeeded by programs of similar generosity.)

If the relief bill is enacted, the typical unemployment benefit in the US will once again add to $600 a week including the base and enhanced benefits, and benefits will be extended beyond their usual time limits to help Americans who have been made long-term unemployed by this crisis. But if instead we mess around and pretend President Trump is serious about reopening the package and sending out larger checks to the population as a whole, then 14 million Americans currently getting unemployment benefits will start getting nothing.

There is this fiction floating around that other countries have by and large done way more than the US has done to provide fiscal support to the public in this crisis. You hear that claim about $2,000 monthly payments to everyone in Canada (wrong) or that the Italian government is paying 80% of people's salaries (wrong) or that it's been typical for other countries to provide broad weekly or monthly cash payments (wrong, wrong, wrong).

Back in the spring, I saw relentless comparisons of other countries' unemployment benefits or payroll support to our own stimulus checks, ignoring the fact that the US had enacted significant unemployment and payroll support in addition to those checks. (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made this apples-to-oranges comparison as recently as earlier this month.) In fact, if this package becomes law, total US fiscal support to counteract COVID will add up to 18% of GDP, according to economic researchers from universities in New York, Turkey, and South Korea who are tracking the global fiscal response. This would place us a bit behind Germany and ahead of Canada, France, Italy and the UK in terms of how much money our government has laid out to prop up society during this crisis. Our generosity lags Japan, which has provided an extraordinary level of support, but is better than most of the large peer countries that American liberals are continually convinced do everything better than we do.

No, the bill isn't perfect

This relief bill doesn't contain everything it should. There are problems with our state-run unemployment insurance systems, PPP does not work for every small business, and aid is not getting to everyone who needs it. But these programs are providing broad-based support to many of the people in our society who have been made especially needy by this crisis - as you can tell by the enormous number of people who stand to lose benefits and face severe financial hardship if it is not enacted.

And the supposed left-right consensus around increasing the amount of the stimulus checks is a mirage. It's fun to say "Trump and Josh Hawley and AOC agree on this, let's get it done." But did you listen to the president's speech last night? His objection to the bills heading to his desk isn't just that he wants bigger checks, he also wants major cuts to various types of spending.

There is no cross-partisan consensus on how to revise this package, which cannot even be amended because it has already passed Congress. The consequence of reopening talks about what should be in it is that the programs set to be continued by the package will expire, not that it will be improved.

Another relief package is going to be needed in just a couple of months in any case because the extension of unemployment benefits in this package only runs for 11 weeks. (And why does it only run for 11 weeks? In part because the populist call for larger checks ran smack into Republican insistence on limiting the overall size of the package. So negotiators had to shorten the term of unemployment enhancement to reallocate money towards stimulus checks, most of which will go to people who didn't lose their jobs, so well done everybody.) That will provide another opportunity to push for other relief measures, including a third round of stimulus checks.

But today, what's most needed is for the president to sign this bill into law and get a large quantity of relief into the hands of people and organizations that desperately need it. And that would be obvious to more people if there hadn't been so much lying about what's in the bill.

Read the original article on Business Insider