Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Missouri, wonders if Congress can't pass relief legislation because too few of them have been poor. Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / AP

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Many people around the country, us included, have wondered for months why Congress can’t agree on a relief package to help American people and businesses hurt by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Sure, politics are involved, as they always are in Washington. But with millions of Americans out of work, millions more going hungry and businesses shutting their doors, you’d think scoring political victories would take a back seat.

Why oh why, we’ve all wondered, can’t lawmakers agree on another assistance package?

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat from Missouri whose family lived in public housing when he was growing up, may have one reason for the seeming lack of urgency.

“Maybe we don’t have enough people in here who have ever been poor,” he said, according to Politico.

Of course, not every member of Congress is from a wealthy background, but most of them are wealthy now. More than half of the members of Congress who filed financial disclosure forms last year had a net worth of $1 million or more.

The wealthiest senator, Republican Rick Scott of Florida, had nearly $260 million in net assets when his disclosure was filed. The wealthiest House member, Montana Republican Greg Gianforte, had net assets of nearly $190 million. Republican Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who faces a runoff to keep her seat next month, had not yet filed a disclosure when the list was compiled by Open Secrets. She has an estimated net worth of $500 million.

Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are on their chamber’s top 10 lists. Pelosi has nearly $115 million in net assets and McConnell has about $34 million. Both are married to affluent spouses.

Wealthy people can have empathy for those who are struggling, but such empathy appears to be in short supply in Congress right now.

With the expiration of provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act later this month, many unemployed Americans will lose benefits. An eviction moratorium for many renters is ending as is relief for those facing foreclosure for failure to pay their mortgage. A deferral of federal student loan payments has been extended and will expire on Jan. 31.

Beyond this, businesses continue to struggle as restrictions put in place to slow the spread of coronavirus have decreased customer demand and revenue for many entities, especially in the tourism and hospitality industries.

State, local and tribal governments, which are major employers in many states, have also seen drops in revenue as demand for some services has increased.

Without support for Congress, people and businesses will needlessly suffer as the pandemic worsens, in part, because of lack of a coherent and strong federal plan to combat the spread of coronavirus.

Since the spring, there have been numerous proposals to extend additional relief — ranging from $500 billion to $3 trillion. Months later, Congress has yet to pass legislation to get more help — and funding for programs like testing and vaccine distribution — to American people and businesses.

Last week, a group of lawmakers from both the House and Senate — including Democrats, Republicans and an independent — offered a $908 billion plan. The plan framework unveiled last week includes many essential elements — money for unemployment benefits ($180 billion), funding for state, local and tribal governments ($160 billion, additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program $288 billion), food and agriculture assistance ($26 billion) and rental relief ($25 billion). It also includes $45 million for the transportation sector (airlines, buses, Amtrak), $4 billion for student loan relief and $35 billion for health provider relief, among other funding provisions. It does not include another round of stimulus checks but it does contain some liability protection for businesses, schools and other entities from lawsuits related to coronavirus.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has rejected the plan, in part because he wants more liability protection and he, and many Republicans in the Senate, don’t support aid for state and local governments.

Inexplicably, McConnell said many times this week that his proposal was bipartisan and supported unemployed workers. His plan does not have support from Democrats in the Senate and it doesn’t include unemployment benefits. The compromise $908 billion plan does.

If Congress fails to come to an agreement on a relief bill before recessing for Christmas, Americans will suffer. Leaders must show that they truly understand the plight of those Americans and businesses that are struggling to weather the pandemic by negotiating and passing legislation that provides the help they need now.

The BDN Editorial Board

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...