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Editorial: Congress must break partisan gridlock to help Americans in need

  • Updated
relief check

President Donald Trump signs the first coronavirus relief package March 27, but Congress in thrall of election politics can't compromise on a new round while low- and middle-class Americans suffer the most. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

When pollsters recently surveyed people in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston, they found half of the households had experienced “serious financial problems” during the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown.

The financial problems in the nation’s four largest cities were concentrated among households experiencing job or wage losses, with a particular impact on black and Latino households. These problems affected a majority of households with incomes up to $100,000, according to the survey, underscoring that these struggles were experienced by both low-income and middle-income households.

These problems clearly continue today and, for many, have gotten worse since the expiration of the Paycheck Protection Program, which provided a series of potentially forgivable loans to small businesses to stay open and keep employees on the payroll, and the generous $600-a-week federal unemployment benefit supplement. President Donald Trump has tried by executive order to replace $300 of that enhanced benefit, but administrative delays have slowed payments, and many unemployed people will not be covered.

In the face of this continuing financial crisis for many families, it is frustrating that the two houses of Congress cannot come to terms on a new relief program. Each side blames the other — Republicans scorn the $3 trillion “wish list” passed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, and Democrats sneer at the “inadequate” $1 trillion counterproposal put forward by Senate Republicans, whose attempt to pass a pared-down plan was blocked by Democrats last week.

Much of the debate centers around providing more aid to cities, counties and states, with Democrats, who offered to trim their proposal to $2.2 trillion, wanting $1 trillion for that purpose. Money for food aid and rental assistance also are among the sticking points, with Republicans saying the president via executive orders has taken steps to address problems such as evictions. They also are at odds over another $1,200 stimulus check for most Americans, among other issues.

These are significant differences, but they shouldn’t be insurmountable to lawmakers entrusted with steering our nation through the pandemic crisis.

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Certainly, the need for assistance affects a large cross-section of the nation, but those who have suffered the most should be helped first. Unfortunately, with the general election less than two months away, the leaders of both parties apparently have decided they’re better off holding their positions rather than compromising in the best interests of the country. The standoff is a cynical way to govern that hurts millions of Americans individually and the nation as a whole.

A $1.5 trillion proposal put together by the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus in the House, with help from Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., got some encouraging words from President Trump, who is now calling for an even larger relief bill than put forward by Republicans. The Problem Solvers plan is meant as a framework for jump-starting negotiations. But unless House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are willing to move their parties toward the middle, it changes nothing and risks becoming viewed as more posturing.

Some problems require creative thinking to solve. This is not one of them.

The survey that highlighted the impact of the pandemic on the nation’s biggest cities was put together by the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and National Public Radio. Among their findings were that people had trouble finding adequate child care, medical care and internet service. There is little doubt that these problems would be found in smaller communities across the nation.

It is outrageous that Congress has failed to address these and other urgent needs because of politics. Both sides must put aside their partisanship, put the country ahead of their parties and help the millions of Americans who urgently need their assistance.

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