As coronavirus outbreaks continue to surge across the U.S., President-elect Joe Biden called on Congress to put its differences aside and provide "immediate relief" for millions of struggling Americans.
"For millions of Americans who've lost hours and wages, or have lost jobs, we can deliver immediate relief, and it need be done quickly," Biden said on Monday, in his first speech on the economy as president-elect. "Congress should come together and pass a Covid relief package."
Biden said he supports a stimulus package like the HEROES Act, the $3 trillion relief package passed by House Democrats in May, that included provisions for enhanced unemployment benefits, a second stimulus check, aid for state and local governments and housing relief. He also noted that sick leave and more money for child care are economic imperatives.
So far, Senate Republicans have not agreed to a bill with such a large price tag. They introduced their own $500 billion "skinny" bill in September, that did not include stimulus checks or enhanced unemployment benefits. The two sides have been negotiating for months but have been unable to come to an agreement.
"The refusal of Democrats and Republicans to cooperate with one another is not due to some mysterious force beyond our control," Biden said. "It's a conscious decision. It's a choice that we make."
Economists have also been calling for another robust relief package for months. In his speech, Biden warned that without a deal, more layoffs could be imminent, just as some unemployment benefits are about to lapse.
But there has been no sign from Congress or the White House that negotiations on a new deal have even started, despite Senate Majority Mitch McConnell saying earlier this month that passing a stimulus bill would be his top priority after the election.
"The idea the president is still playing golf and not doing anything about it is beyond my comprehension," Biden said about President Donald Trump. "What is he doing?"
Millions of Americans could lose unemployment benefits in 2021
While further stimulus legislation is at a standstill, many CARES Act relief provisions will expire just after the holidays.
That includes the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which expanded unemployment benefits to gig workers, independent contractors and freelancers who don't normally qualify, and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program, which provides an extra 13 weeks of UI to those who have exhausted their state's benefits.
More than half of all Americans currently receiving unemployment insurance qualify through those two programs. Their expiration would leave over 13 million Americans without benefits come January.
The nationwide eviction moratorium will also end after Dec. 31, 2020, which advocates worry will lead to a surge in homelessness right after the New Year.
The current federal student loan deferral is also slated to end at the end of the year.
As Congress remains at a stalemate, the virus is once again overwhelming hospitals and causing states to rollback planned re-openings. Health experts fear that holiday gatherings will make outbreaks even worse.
"We're going into a very dark winter," Biden said. "Things are going to get much tougher before they get easier."
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