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In Maine, the seven-day average for new coronavirus cases has seen a five-fold increase in a month. On Thursday, that average was 165.9, up from 31.8 a month ago. Another 207 cases in the state were announced on Thursday.
Gov. Janet Mills has announced some tightening of state rules in recent weeks to combat this recent wave of COVID-19 cases. If case numbers and hospitalizations continue to rise, more restrictions would be in order.
Governors in other states have also increased restrictions on businesses and activities in an effort to stem the spread of the virus. Experts predict cases numbers will grow as winter approaches and people spend more time indoors.
With all this in mind, it is infuriating that Congress — namely the Republican-controlled Senate — continues to dither about another coronavirus relief package for Americans.
Immediately after last week’s election, there was hope that a meaningful relief bill could be forthcoming. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that a relief package should be done before the end of the year. Perhaps more important, McConnell said that help for state and local governments was needed. This was a change from his comments this summer suggesting that states and municipalities that mismanaged their budgets didn’t deserve bailouts.
“We need another rescue package. … Hopefully the partisan passions that prevented us from doing another rescue package will subside with the election,” McConnell said at a press conference in his home state of Kentucky the day after the election. “And I think we need to do it and I think we need to do it before the end of the year.”
“It’s a possibility we will do more for state and local governments,” McConnell added.
A week later, those “partisan passions” have reappeared and a large relief bill again appears doomed.
On Tuesday, McConnell was again talking about a “targeted” package, likely similar to a $500 billion package floated by Republicans in the Senate months ago.
The U.S. House, led by Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi, passed a $3 trillion aid package in May. Over the summer, Senate Republicans talked about various, much smaller, aid packages but a comprehensive relief bill did not materialize.
While Democratic leaders and White House officials negotiated, without success, around a $1.8 trillion plan, the Senate has focused on smaller bills aimed mostly at helping businesses.
Negotiations stopped as the Nov. 3 election approached.
They must resume and they must focus on providing as much help as possible to American workers, families and businesses.
A resumption of the enhanced $600 a week unemployment benefits should be part of a package, along with additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program. States, cities, countries and tribal governments also need assistance as they struggle to continue to provide services while revenues have declined. Only Congress has the capacity to provide the level of fiscal assistance that is needed.
A smaller bill that McConnell appears to be pushing is likely to be inadequate to the scope of the worsening health crisis and ongoing economic slowdown.
As Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, said last month, the country’s economic recovery remains incomplete and at risk of slipping backwards without significant financial support from Congress.
“The expansion is still far from complete,” he said in remarks to the National Association for Business Economics. “At this early stage I would argue that the risks of policy intervention are still asymmetric. Too little support would lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship for households and businesses.”
“The risks of overdoing it seem, for now, to be smaller,” he continued. “Even if policy actions ultimately prove to be greater than needed they will not go to waste. The recovery will be stronger and move faster.”
The Senate has delayed long enough. It is time to pass significant fiscal relief for American families, businesses and communities.