This week’s Extra! Extra! COVID-19 is going to focus on news out of the US. After all, this is the week that the US finally reached the top of the global rankings in terms of number of confirmed cases (we all know the US should’ve been at the top of that list for weeks now) – now accounting for nearly 20% of confirmed cases around the world. Yes, there is a much, much bigger world that is getting hit with COVID-19 right now, and I definitely want to turn to that. But there’s a lot to say in the US alone right now.
Congress just passed a stimulus package the likes of which, I truly believe, have not been seen in a long, long time, if ever. We’re talking substantial expansions to unemployment insurance, something that essentially amounts to a one-time universal income for low income and middle class Americans and loans with forgiveness provisions for small businesses. The fact that Mitch McConnell co-signed any of this is astounding to me.
And yet, it’s not enough. It will not be enough for so, so many people in this country. The federal response to the pandemic continues to be contradictory, fragmented and not grounded in reality (let alone science). States are basically running amok and making their own decisions (with governors sometimes going against the better judgement of mayors). Some states are trying to fleece indigenous groups in the name of Coronavirus. Meanwhile undocumented people – far too many of whom are in detention centers – are receiving neither federal nor state assistance. Lack of health care continues to, literally, kill people in this country. And while there are all sorts of thorny medical ethics questions that need to be tackled in a situation like this, people with disabilities are still being treated as though their lives aren’t equally valuable.
I promise you all that next week we will turn back to global coverage of this pandemic, which is, after all, a global situation.
Himani: The stimulus package includes A LOT of things. For the tl;dr of what was passed, check out the first article linked above from NPR. For useful information on what this could mean in your actual life, I recommend the NY Times FAQ. And if you want the human perspective from someone involved in applying pressure on Congress on what to include in the bill for regular people and small businesses, check out the Medium article featuring Tom Colicchio.
Himani: The stimulus package is not enough. For one thing, the one-time check and four-month expansion of unemployment insurance does not map onto what could very well be a longer time frame. Second, and more importantly, it ignores the needs of many people in the US, which we’ll discuss further below. And, as the Slate article points out, it also does little to address the shortage of healthcare workers and medical devices which could, for instance, have been included in the bill as job-creating measures.
It’s not enough, but honestly it’s more than I ever hoped for, given how utterly amoral Republicans and Trump are. Democrats forced Republicans to make meaningful changes to the bill – most notably the expansion to unemployment insurance of $600 per week of federal benefits on top of state benefits. The Democratic party is disjointed and often disappointing, but I also appreciate the difficulty of the situation they are in. No matter what they do, Republicans have shown again and again that they do not have any sort of conscience and do not care about any kind of rules – and Trump just demonstrated that once again.
And on another level, whenever the choice is “do nothing and stand by your principles” or “do something and save some people’s lives” I’m always going to choose the latter. Truly, would it have been better to lose everything in order to expand paid sick leave? Or ensuring that states are prepared to hold mail-in elections in November? I don’t mean to trivialize these issues – they are incredibly important – but I just don’t think that letting nothing happen is the right answer.
Natalie: It’s hard to think of this moment in purely political terms…people are suffering and I think Congressional Democrats were more interested in moving swiftly and getting something done to mitigate that suffering. They behaved similarly with the stimulus following the economic collapse and it’s a far more difficult calculation than people give it credit for being. As you rightly pointed out, Himani, how much do you give up to expand paid sick leave or provide election security?
That said, I think this will ultimately be the first of many bills to help us grapple with the economic impact of Corvid-19. Because, truth be told, this isn’t really stimulative, right…it’s just sustaining. I think we’re just scratching the surface when it comes to addressing the economic fallout from all this and Congressional leadership will have to come back to the negotiating table once the fallout becomes more clear. And since the administration and private corporations have already shown themselves to be untrustworthy partners, the Democrats can push for more progressive legislation down the road.
How COVID-19 Makes Already-Terrible Things So Much Worse
Himani: This slew of articles serves as a reminder that while a virus might not discriminate, our systematically discriminatory society does make it so that the adverse effects of the pandemic play out disproportionately across the population.
How the United(?) States Are Handling the Pandemic
Natalie: He is doing, brazeningly, exactly what he did to Puerto Rico. He is doing, brazeningly, exactly what he got impeached for…but because Republicans refuse to hold him accountable in any way, he just continues to do it.