Other’s opinion: Relief bill welcomed, but it shouldn’t have taken so long

Published 6:30 am Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Free Press, Mankato

Help is on the way for businesses, the unemployed, renters, schools and others struggling financially from the pandemic.

Congressional leaders Sunday night announced they had reached a deal on a $900 billion package. While the bill brings needed relief Americans should be frustrated that it took eight months to reach an agreement.

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The bill provides a $300 a week bonus payment in unemployment benefits.

Nearly $300 billion will go to help struggling businesses pay rent and workers. It also provides $69 billion in testing and vaccine distribution funds and $82 billion in funding for colleges and schools. It also includes $25 billion in rental assistance and a one-month extension of the eviction moratorium. More than $13 billion in food assistance is also in the bill.

Individuals, under certain income guidelines, will get a $600 direct stimulus payment.

After Congress acted quickly at the start of the pandemic by passing the $2 trillion CARES Act, bipartisan efforts to approve the necessary second relief bill disappeared.

The long holdup was due primarily to Senate Republicans balking, ostensibly on the grounds it would add too much to the federal deficit. But these are the same Republicans who pushed through the 2017 tax cut that ballooned the deficit. The CBO estimates the tax cut will add nearly $2 trillion to the deficit, after accounting for added economic activity spurred by the tax cuts.

Republicans also were holding out for sweeping liability protection from COVID-19-related lawsuits for businesses. In the end that language was not included in the bill.

Meanwhile, Democrats didn’t get the broader financial support for state governments they were seeking. Instead money to the states will be targeted to testing and vaccine rollouts.

The public may have become accustomed to gridlock in Congress, but the delay in agreeing to this relief package needlessly dragged out the financial damage being done to businesses, particularly in the leisure industry, as well as individuals who’ve been unable to pay rent and bills.

The adage about better late than never certainly applies here, but there was no need for protracting the pain so many Americans are feeling when a deal should have been reached several months ago.