Sdandsd, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

December 16, 2020; Washington Post

It looks like, after months of stalled talks, Congress may finally vote on a short-term economic relief package—possibly as early as today. Evidence of mitigation is threaded throughout the measure as it has been described to press outlets, with both coronavirus liability protections for certain businesses and aid to cities and towns struck out of the $900 billion measure. The first was backed by Republicans, the second by Democrats.

What is left is a relatively spare bill, one in the hundreds of billions, that includes more money for schools, a new round of PPP loans for small business, provisions for unemployed workers that would include a small supplemental payment of $300, billions for vaccine distribution, and smallish direct stimulus payments of $600 to $700 for those whose income falls below a set threshold. A small allotment of $25 billion will go toward rental assistance as millions across the country face eviction proceedings.

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.

There are additional surprises in the relief bill, including an easing of the way to immediate legislation to fund federal agencies to rein in surprise medical billing. This has bipartisan backing and has long been sought by advocates.

The bill comes at a desperate time for many. New figures show that 8 million more people have fallen below the poverty line since this summer. A number of emergency relief measures are set to expire, joblessness levels remain high, and hiring has slowed even as infections and deaths from COVID-19 have risen to record highs. The bill is also being advanced in the context of Congress needing to pass an overall spending bill by Friday to avoid a federal government shutdown.

Reports suggest there have been some major disagreements about the minuscule dollar amounts of the stimulus checks going directly to households, as well as the meager levels of money in the bill overall. It will, indeed, continue to be a long, hard, and sometimes deadly winter for many.—Ruth McCambridge