The U.S. Senate began its Thanksgiving recess Wednesday — a day earlier than originally planned — and will not return until the week of Nov. 30. Its discussions regarding the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation remain at a monthslong impasse. The United States has been averaging more than 162,000 new coronavirus cases per day over the past seven days, and the nation surpassed a quarter-million deaths from COVID-19 this week.
The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act — a $3.4 trillion response to COVID-19 and follow-up to March’s $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act — was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on May 15, more than six months ago.
The urgency of a second bill, or at least some negotiated version of it, was clear even then. Health and economic experts had detailed how the rest of 2020 was likely to unfold and what would be required to combat the virus and its impact on the economy.
Think back to six months ago. We knew of the families in need; the small businesses fracturing, some to the point of no return; the health care workers navigating long, dangerous shifts and needing the equipment to keep doing so; the schools attempting to deploy unprecedented instructional models; and the local governments experiencing revenue shortfalls and subsequently slashing public services in order to stay afloat.
So much loss, sorrow and financial devastation.
Now think of Thanksgiving.
Of U.S. senators going home to their families for an extended Thanksgiving break. A cherished holiday that we’ve been told — by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Department of Health — that we should not spend with anyone beyond our immediate household.
Are you angry?
You should be.
Perhaps Congress couldn’t have saved Thanksgiving.
But on the other hand, Congress — and specifically the Senate — hasn’t saved much of anything for half a year now.
And now another winter is coming. America’s death toll has surpassed 252,000. And our greatest pain of the pandemic is all but guaranteed in the coming weeks. As The Atlantic noted Thursday, “predicting the virus’s death toll in the near term has become a matter of brutal arithmetic: 150,000 cases a day, times 1.5 percent, will lead to 2,250 daily deaths.”
But, please, pass the senators another turkey leg.
COVID-19 relief is needed now, to lessen the pandemic’s negative effects on families and businesses and to help spur America’s recovery.
The House’s newest relief bill — which now exists as a slimmer version passed by that chamber in October — isn’t perfect, but at least the House has done its job to begin the debate. The Senate and the Trump administration have not held up their end of the response to this crisis.
The stakes are far too high to delay any longer.
In Sunday’s editorial, we noted that local health facilities had to rely for months on their own resources to get protective equipment for staff and that “depending on the federal government has proven to be a risky proposition — as the struggling families, business owners and municipal and school officials still waiting for a second stimulus bill can attest.”
City of Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace, while directing most of her plea to state lawmakers, noted in an op-ed earlier this week that reduced revenues because of COVID-19 have pushed cities like Lancaster “further toward financial devastation — either in the way of increased taxes, curtailed services or both.”
Congress has the power through a stimulus to help municipal governments remain solvent, address this health crisis and continue to provide necessary public services until we are past the threat of the virus.
That’s why we were disappointed to see Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey criticize Philadelphia’s new coronavirus restrictions as seemingly “inconsistent and arbitrary” in a tweet on Monday.
Nothing about his tweet was helpful. We’d prefer that Toomey and his colleagues do their jobs on the floor of the U.S. Senate instead of taking cheap shots from the peanut gallery. He and his fellow senators can do great good by pushing COVID-19 relief across the finish line immediately upon their return from Thanksgiving break.
And if Toomey and the Senate can’t accomplish that, then they certainly have zero standing to criticize local officials who are doing their best with limited resources and few palatable options.
Most believe the next round of federal relief won’t come until the convening of the new Congress and Joe Biden’s inauguration early next year.
Waiting that long will cause lasting harm.
Federal programs intended to aid Americans struggling financially will expire within weeks.
“An estimated 12 million people could lose unemployment payments on Dec. 26, potentially pushing many over the brink, if Congress is unable to pass a new stimulus bill before then,” The Washington Post reported. “Economists worry about the catastrophic effects of this expiration.”
Furthermore, “The nationwide eviction moratorium put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expires at the end of the year, as does the student loan forbearance that President Trump implemented by executive order,” CBS News noted.
Combined, all of this would be a disaster for American families and their futures.
Today, Lancaster County is coming together for the Extraordinary Give. For nearly a decade, it’s been a day when we recognize the myriad needs in our community and dig deep to help them. We collectively rise to the occasion, and this year we are doing so for nonprofits — and those they serve — that have been hit hard by the pandemic.
We do our part.
It shouldn’t be too much to ask those we elected to the highest offices to do theirs. COVID-19 relief is needed now, and we only wish it could have come before the day when we will grasp that wishbone, close our eyes and pray for better days ahead.