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Editorial: Irreparable COVID-19 damage

U.S. Capitol

U.S. Capitol. Robert Behre/Staff

For more than three months, Congress has postponed a new round of help for individuals and small businesses that have lost income because of anti-COVID measures — as well as similar assistance for cities and towns that badly need it.

Now the irreparable toll is becoming obvious, in South Carolina and the rest of the nation.

NBC News projects that more than 100,000 small businesses will close this year because they have neither the revenue nor promised but undelivered government assistance to survive. (Help your neighbors this weekend by shopping locally during Small Business Saturday.)

Tragically, many of these businesses will go bankrupt. There have been more than 4,000 bankruptcy cases in South Carolina this year, and the number of cases in October was 27% more than in September, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute.

Mortgage foreclosures in South Carolina have risen about 25% since March, according to the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank. When people can’t pay their rent, landlords can’t pay their mortgage. Everybody loses.

Each side in Congress blames the other for the impasse over a new stimulus bill. Certainly, a major obstacle was the refusal of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to meet an offer of $1.8 trillion from the Trump administration that came close to the $2 trillion she has been demanding in recent talks. Another was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's insistence on  a much smaller bill of about $500 billion in relief — about the amount of the original unemployment supplement and Paycheck Protection loans that expired in August.

If the Trump-Pelosi negotiations had reached a compromise settlement, it's hard to believe the Senate would have balked, despite the obvious strain on the Treasury.

That also could have contained urgently needed funds for the states to prepare for rolling out COVID-19 vaccines quickly and help for local governments, which increasingly will struggle to meet their own payrolls without raising taxes and fees.

There is still a case for an omnibus federal COVID-19 assistance package. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell has urged Congress to act and avoid further damage to the economy. Unfortunately, there is little to no sign of progress.

Meanwhile, the people who have needed help the most have been left in limbo, likely to lose their jobs and businesses. The damage is occurring daily, and it will take a long time to repair. 

There is no more urgent problem before the nation. Congress and President Trump have been shamefully inactive. They must act quickly to staunch the economic bleeding and help ensure the states can roll out vaccines as soon as drug companies have them ready to go.

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