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Congress must extend coronavirus relief efforts

  • Updated
  • 3 min to read
Capitol Hill

The U.S. Capitol under the clouds during a sunset in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2008. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Despite the wishful thinking of all too many Americans, it is now clear that the COVID-19 is going to be a fact of our lives for the foreseeable future.

After an initially successful effort to “Bend the curve” of infections back in the spring, many states – including California – rushed unwisely to reopen and restore some sense of normality. As a result, we are seeing an explosion of cases across the country.

It’s unclear when or how the spike can be controlled, and even less clear when life may be back to what we used to think of as “normal,” if ever.

That leaves us with double-digit unemployment, a small-business community facing financial ruin, and local government staggering under the weight of massive tax revenue losses on top of increased costs for pandemic-related safety measures.

Congress, in a rare fit of bipartisan goodwill, stepped in robustly at first, with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, passed in late March. It was a $2 trillion effort, aimed primarily at stimulus checks for individuals and families and loans to businesses to retain workers in the face of shutdowns. The results have been messy to be sure, with some less-than-small businesses getting large checks while truly small businesses got nothing, with stimulus checks arriving in the bank accounts of the recently deceased.

But on balance, Congress probably saved the United States from an even greater economic catastrophe than it now faces.

Unfortunately, many of those important stimulus measures expire at the end of July, a deadline written into law back when we hoped this might all be over by now.

Now that it is painfully clear that it is far from over, Congress needs to act quickly on a new stimulus package.

Something is profoundly wrong when our only choice is to die in a fiery conflagration or be plunged into extended darkness that would be an embarrassment to a Third World power grid operator.

In May, the Democrat-led House of Representatives took the first step, passing a $3 trillion bill known as the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or the HEROES Act. After meeting some initial resistance in the Republican-led Senate, there seems to be some small movement to pass the bill, or something like it.

Among other provisions, the bill would extend the $600-per-week unemployment boost to supplement state benefits, extend a new round of direct stimulus checks for individuals and families, create protections from evictions and debt collection, provide relief for struggling renters and mortgage-holders and those facing burdensome student debt.

Unlike the first round of relief from the government in March, and perhaps most importantly, this bill includes $1 trillion in relief for struggling state, local and tribal governments.

We met recently with Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and he told us this is a key feature of the bill.

Local government is “really at the tip of the spear with this and they’re running out of money … If we don’t get some kind of financial relief then they will start laying people off,” Thompson said. “They have to balance their books.”

Not only would this cut into vital public services, but it would add to the already swollen ranks of the unemployed and further exacerbate our economic crisis.

The bill also includes some money for school districts, he said, but probably not all the money that would be necessary to reopen in-person classes safely.

He said people seem not to understand the huge burden schools will face, including “Additional costs associated with sanitation and hygiene, additional costs associated with installing Plexiglas, social distancing with the kids.”

Fully reopening schools may require additional federal relief for local districts, he said.

Thompson told us that a second, seemingly unrelated bill passed by the House will also assist with recovery from the pandemic. In late June, the House passed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill that, in addition to the traditional road and bridges kind of construction, includes various clean energy and carbon reduction measures pushed by Thompson. It includes money for electrical grid improvements and to build up broadband infrastructure for underserved areas.

Not only would the bill create jobs in the construction and clean energy industries, it would strengthen our efforts to combat infectious diseases by improving internet access for remote learning, working and telemedicine.

We urge the Senate to act quickly on the HEROES Act and the infrastructure bill and we commend Thompson for his work in support of federal relief for struggling government and residents.

Closer to home, Thompson told us he is active in trying to boost the response to the U.S. Census, which is under way now. He is participating in events across the district, including virtual parades through key neighborhoods encouraging residents to fill out the Census.

This effort is vitally important. Not only will it determine how many members of Congress each state will have, it also determines how much federal funding each state will get in a variety of important programs, including highway funding, nutritional programs for children, and rates for payments to physicians under Medicare.

We urge all residents to provide information to the Census to guarantee an accurate count and to join Thompson in encouraging others to do so.

Watch Now: Know the basics of social distancing

Practice social distancing by putting space between yourself and others. Continue to practice healthy habits to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

The Napa Valley Register Editorial Board consists of Publisher Davis Taylor, Editor Sean Scully, and public members Cindy Webber, Ed Shenk, Mary Jean Mclaughlin and Chris Hammaker.

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