On Congress’s Compromise COVID Relief Deal

The following is a statement from Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project:

“The National Employment Law Project (NELP) is proud to stand in solidarity with people across the United States who demand a just response from our government to the COVID-19 pandemic and recession. Although we support the passage of this legislation that would yield temporary relief for millions, we also recognize that it falls far short of the just recovery we need and demand, and includes painful compromises that do not adequately support people struggling to get through this pandemic and economic crisis.

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“Congress should be delivering bold, robust responses that meet people’s immediate needs, build economic stability, and center Black, indigenous, and people of color, including immigrants and women, who are bearing the worst harm. The truth is that our nation can afford to deliver the kind of large-scale aid that this critical moment calls for, and we should not be hemmed in by artificial spending caps or an austerity mindset. In that context, Congress should be passing, and the president should be signing, the HEROES Act or something of its magnitude that provides people and communities across the country with the level of help they need and deserve.

“Without the extensions of unemployment benefits included in this bill, people and families would face record hunger and homelessness in the dead of winter and serious harm to their mental health as the pandemic peaks. But NELP is extremely disappointed that the final bill provides five fewer weeks of unemployment benefits than the compromise reached by the bipartisan group of senators. While we support additional stimulus payments, there is no need to trade weeks of unemployment benefits for those suffering the worst in order to make these stimulus payments. We are a nation of abundant wealth and reject the notion that we cannot afford both.

“NELP is also disappointed that the stimulus checks will not be available to dependent adults, a cruel slight to people with disabilities. While we applaud that this bill eliminates the grossly unfair exclusion that barred families with mixed immigration statuses from receiving stimulus checks, we recognize this is not enough. We stand with the millions of undocumented people and their families, many of them frontline workers, who remain excluded and are advocating to local and state governments to step up with excluded worker funds and the support these families need.

“But recognizing the urgency of this moment, when 12 million people will lose unemployment benefits on December 26th, NELP supports the passage of this package and urges all members of Congress to vote yea when it comes to the floor.

“We also note that the deal fails to provide much-needed relief to state, local, and tribal governments, and this failure will lead both to disruption and reduction in essential services as well as more layoffs across the country. As ever, the disruption in services and the layoffs will fall primarily on people of color. Unfortunately, Congressional Republicans held this much-needed relief hostage to their desires to give employers sweeping immunity from any liability for negligently exposing workers and consumers to COVID-19, and to prevent the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and its state counterparts from enforcing our health and safety laws when it comes to COVID-19 exposure. We commend those who rejected and defeated such an immoral proposal.

“The compromise reached on the paid leave and paid sick leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act is disappointing. Congress has discontinued the mandate for many businesses to offer paid sick leave and paid leave, but retained the tax credits for businesses that do provide such leave per FFCRA. Time and time again, we’ve seen that tax credits don’t really drive any meaningful change. And it puts paid leave back in the sole discretion of employers, instead of giving workers the power and autonomy to make the right choices for their own health. This is one of the policies Congress and the Biden-Harris administration must revisit as soon as possible, and it demonstrates, yet again, how important it is for us to all keep fighting for the Family Act and the Healthy Families Act.

“NELP will start the new year continuing the fight for a real COVID relief package—one that is generous and provides aid to the people who need it the most.”

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