The COVID-19 crisis can't be separated from the civil unrest that has erupted across the nation following the extrajudicial killing by cops of another unarmed Black man. Because that pain, that horror, that outrage has been layered on top of the COVID-19 crisis which is so disproportionately hitting Black and brown people. While 23% of white, non-Hispanic people say that they are having trouble affording food, housing, living expenses and health care in this crisis, nearly half of Black people—48%—say they can't afford to live. Likewise, 46% of Hispanic people report extreme financial distress.
Half of Black and brown people in this nation don't know how they'll continue to afford to live AND once again have been shown how little their lives matter to the powers that be. Right now, that includes Congress, where a fight over unemployment insurance is shaping up to be a major obstacle. Because Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans are reusing to support an extension of the enhanced payments that were passed in the CARES Act in March. Republicans say that the extra $600 a week in benefits—which in some states hasn't even reached everyone who's applied yet—is a disincentive for people to risk their lives by returning to their jobs. "What I thought was a mistake was the bonus we added that small businesses all over the country are saying make it more lucrative to not work than to work. That’s exactly the opposite of what we want to do," McConnell, in all his whiteness, intoned last week.
Democrats are pushing back. "They've said that they don't want workers to get this money that they need to pay rent and groceries," said Sen. Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who negotiated the unemployment provisions in the CARES Act. "It expires July 31. And we'll see if they want all those workers hurting all summer long."
Then there's Republican Sen. Susan Collins, of Maine. "Future coronavirus relief legislation must provide a better system to help make people whole, but not receive more through unemployment compensation than they were previously earning," she says. Because you can't let all those minimum wage workers get a taste of how much more sustainable life is on a livable wage. And because the solution is adding another layer of bureaucracy for already overstretched state systems, making them determine what level of benefits they should be paying out.
Meanwhile, they're all pretending that the nation isn't broken and that the pandemic has not been contained and that we don't have adequate testing and that we're months and months away from a vaccine. "We need policies that encourage those individuals that can to return to the workplace to help get our economy going again," Ohio Republican Rob Portman said in a statement. His idea is to send workers back into potentially deadly workplaces with a $450 weekly bonus. Not $500, but $450. $1,800 a month in exchange possibly for you life, or that of a loved one's back at home.
Some Senate Democrats, including Virginia's Mark Warner with the support of Chuck Schumer, want to "dramatically expand the employee retention tax credit." Which is just not the kind of immediate and direct and big stuff that needs to be done. What needs to happen, what's been needing to happen from the very beginning of this crisis is what progressives in the House and activists have been calling for—government funds to subsidize businesses' payrolls. Don't do it through cumbersome processes involving banks and loans and tax credits and the rest. That or $2,000 payments a month to everybody. Hell, both. That would be an adequate response.
That would help ease some of the pain, some of the terror Black and brown communities in particular are feeling right now, in this immense crisis.