Take the deal, Congress. Then immediately start working on the next one.
It couldn’t come a moment too soon.
The scale of the economic crisis is staggering. One recent analysis, from researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame, estimated that nearly 8 million Americans have fallen — or, more accurately, been pushed — into poverty since June. That’s the biggest single-year spike in at least six decades.
Likewise, in the Census Bureau’s latest Household Pulse Survey, millions said that they are already behind on their housing payments (rent or mortgage), that they can’t afford enough food to feed their families, or both. Children in particular are enduring severe deprivation: Shamefully, here in the richest country in the world, 1 in 6 adults who live with children (14 million) said their households lacked sufficient food in the past week. Withholding support from these families is not merely inhumane but also uneconomical, as poor nutrition can stunt children’s development and impair their future earning potential.
As dire as conditions have been — at least for one track of this two-track economy — they appear to be deteriorating.
For two consecutive weeks, the number of workers newly filing for unemployment benefits has risen. Expectations for the weeks ahead are even more pessimistic. Nearly a third of adults expect someone in their household to lose employment income in the coming month.
Meanwhile, retail spending fell in November, notching its biggest decline in seven months. As my Post colleagues recently reported, retailers have simultaneously noticed a rise in petty theft as desperate customers shoplift food and diapers.
This is a reminder that withholding fiscal relief is bad for families — and the stores where they shop. Similarly, it’s bad for tenants behind on rent — and their landlords. That is, there are both humanitarian and pro-business arguments for getting money out the door as quickly as possible. There are budgetary arguments, too, if more aid now gets the economy — and, therefore, tax revenue — back onto their pre-pandemic trajectories sooner.
Absent a legislative deal, a sharp benefits cliff looms right after Christmas. Dozens of emergency programs — including expanded jobless benefits, paid sick leave, eviction protections and mortgage payment deferrals — are scheduled to expire, and potentially condemn the economy to a double-dip recession.
A deal that preserves these lifelines is urgently needed. Congress should enact whatever relief measures both parties can agree on without delay.
The proposal on the table has defects, of course. It looks likely to shortchange funding for unemployment benefits in order to pay for nearly universal stimulus checks. These broader stimulus payments are by no means bad, but they’re much less targeted to financial need than payments aimed specifically at people without jobs.
The bill’s bigger flaw — and one that is deliberate, because Republicans demanded it — is the absence of aid for state and local governments.
As economists on the left and right have argued, states and municipalities desperately need this help. They need it for the same reasons they always do during a recession, just at a larger scale: Tax revenue has plummeted, demand for public services has skyrocketed, and these governments (unlike the feds) must balance their budgets.
Since February, state and local government have eliminated 1.3 million jobs — laying off teachers, first responders, utility workers, bus drivers, public hospital employees and others. For context, these governments have already axed nearly twice as many jobs so far this year as they did in the entire five-year period following the Great Recession. And the overwhelming lesson of that era was that public-sector bloodletting made the private sector recover much more slowly.
Teachers and cops are consumers, too, after all.
Republican politicians’ opposition to state and local aid is puzzling. Their districts are in trouble, too. A recent Tax Policy Center analysis found that red states (Alaska, Wyoming, Florida, Louisiana, North Dakota, Texas) have had among the sharpest revenue declines, with revenue from April to September down more than 10 percent from the same period a year earlier. Yet somehow, Republican lawmakers dismiss federal help to their own constituencies as a “blue state bailout.” Republicans even reportedly oppose additional funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency because it would be used to aid states and cities in distress.
All of which is to say it’s great that leaders of both parties seem to (finally) recognize their duty to forestall the most immediate catastrophe, that post-Christmas benefit cliff. But their work isn’t finished. Sometime in the next few weeks or months, lawmakers must take another bite at the apple before it rots.
The coronavirus stimulus package: What you need to read
The latest: White House proposes $1.8 trillion American Families Plan
American Families Plan: Read the White House fact sheet | What’s in Biden’s $1.8 trillion American Families Plan?
Calculators: Third round of stimulus checks | Child tax credit
Stimulus FAQs: What you need to do to get the third stimulus payment | The Post answers your stimulus questions
What’s in the stimulus: Checks, unemployment insurance and more | PDF: Read the bill
Child Tax Credit FAQ: The Democratic plan to give most parents $250 a month
Tell the Post: Are you waiting on a stimulus check, loan or unemployment assistance from the latest economic relief plan?