No Half Measures,” Lens Envy

It’s hard to believe, but back in July I wrote in NPQ about what was being called “CARES 2.” At the time, Republicans were touting a $1 trillion bill while the Democrats sought over $3 trillion. The final legislation came in at $908 billion—even less than $1 trillion, which gives a clue as to who prevailed—and the bill itself did not limp across the finish line until December 26th. As it did, the message from Washington was clear: a half measure of relief, sure, but with no vision of universal support for Americans. Indeed, the goal appeared to be to keep benefits as modest and limited as possible.

Last month, NPQ reviewed a draft relief bill crafted by a bipartisan group of US Senate “moderates.” The final bill ended up looking similar, but with a few changes; notably, $600-a-person payments were added, while the extension of unemployment insurance and $300 weekly supplemental payments was reduced from 16 weeks to 11 weeks. There were also self-serving provisions introduced, including an unseemly addition that enables businesses to deduct 100 percent of the cost of restaurant meals instead of 50 percent, a measure widely derided as the “three-martini lunch” provision.

The 5,593-page bill that ultimately became law combines the $908 billion in relief with $1.4 trillion in broader omnibus funding for a total of $2.3 trillion. Importantly, the legislation stopped 14 million unemployed Americans from losing their unemployment insurance support, although the late date of the bill’s signing could delay payments. It also averted another disaster by extending the rent moratorium, keeping millions of families in their homes for at least one more month and providing $25 billion toward missing rent—maybe a third of what is owed. Many observers hope and expect that President-Elect Joe Biden, once inaugurated, will extend the rent moratorium again through executive order, which would buy more time, but doing that would still fail to address the growing structural gap between rent owed and the ability of renters to pay. The unemployment provisions also only extend until March 14th. There are, in short, many more crisis points to come. As Ruth McCambridge aptly noted last month, “All in all, the bill reflects a painful level of compromise rather than any kind of bold move to set the economy on a different course.”

Of course, there was also a bit of end-of-the-year drama. A last-minute effort to bump up check payments to $2,000 prevailed by a two-thirds majority in the US House of Representatives, only to be blocked in the US Senate by Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Democrats say they’ll push for $2,000 if they win the two runoff election Senate seats in Georgia, but, for now, $600 it is.

It was, sadly, a fitting end to 2020: Welcome to America, home of the brave—and the half measure.

The Impact on Nonprofits

Appropriately, the main focus of the relief bill is on money for families, small businesses, schools, transportation, food, and health. But as NPQ has often noted, nonprofits are at the heart of many parts of our economy, so nonprofits are affected throughout. Prior to the pandemic, nonprofits employed 12.5 million people out of 160 million-plus in the labor force nationwide. At the peak of the shutdown, 1.6 million nonprofit workers were laid off, with 900,000 still laid off as of October. The National Council of Nonprofits summarizes the key provisions that impact nonprofits