Economic crisis requires more federal assistance

| July 29, 2020 | 0 Comments


It is now August, and the first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic — rather than tapering down to a manageable level — has exploded in Los Angeles and communities across the United States. Along with a public health crisis that has taken the lives of tens of thousands of Americans, we are experiencing an economic crisis that has laid off millions of workers and thrown our nation into an uncertain future.

These twin crises are often put at odds with one another. Some argue that we must lift restrictions to bring jobs back and get people working again. Others say that a firm, mandatory lockdown is the only way to bring the rates of infection down. But the reality is that one crisis is not solved without the other.

We cannot restart our economy until we can gain control over this virus (and commit to widespread use of masks, face-coverings and social distancing). Likewise, we will not have a reliable compliance with safer-at-home orders until we fully address the economic crisis playing out in households across this country.

At the writing of this column, the $600 weekly supplement to unemployment insurance made possible by the federal CARES Act is set to expire at the end of July. The U.S. Senate is currently debating what the next aid package will look like, even though the House of Representatives approved the HEROES Act — including rent and mortgage assistance, stimulus payments, and support for small businesses — over two months ago.

Perhaps, as you read this column, Washington has it all figured out. On the chance that isn’t the case, let’s be clear why this federal support — including the supplemental unemployment dollars — is so crucial.

Over the past few months, I have spoken to residents of District Four who were down to their last few meals. I’ve heard from countless neighbors who couldn’t make rent or mortgage payments and small businesses barely hanging on, and I have seen anxiety growing faster than household debt. Providing aid when millions of Americans are forced out of work through no fault of their own is not a hand-out, it is a basic humanitarian gesture.

Here in Los Angeles, we’ve worked to halt evictions, freeze rent increases where possible, and start the largest rent-relief fund in the nation. The state worked with the big banks to put off mortgage payments and halt eviction proceedings in the courts. But a city and state cannot act alone. The federal government — and only the federal government — has the power to cancel rent and mortgage payments altogether, cover small businesses for their losses, and save American families before they fall off a financial cliff.

But this assistance is not just a moral imperative — it is also necessary for public health. Many hourly, low-wage workers can’t do their jobs from home, and they fear that a positive COVID-19 test will cut them off from their only source of income. In a city as expensive as Los Angeles, the supplemental unemployment insurance is necessary to put food on the table, buy medicine and pay a rent or mortgage.

Most importantly, this assistance will assure working people that if they need to stay home to stay safe, they can still feed their families. If the federal government forces people to decide between staying home when they feel sick and earning an income to feed their kids, a lot of people will continue to put themselves and others at risk.

This is a choice that no one should be forced to make. If we really want people to stay home and stay safe, we need to make it financially possible. We need supplemental unemployment dollars. We need relief for renters and mortgage holders. We need a focus on the daily reality of working families before we focus on stock market futures.

A grassroots approach to shoring up our economy — and protecting the most vulnerable — will remain my focus and my fight. But we can’t do it alone. Congress must step up.


Category: News

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