It’s been over a month since the $600 weekly boost to unemployment benefits expired, and millions of people across the country are facing a devastating financial situation. After negotiating for months, then giving up and going on recess, Congress has still not reached an agreement.
Every additional day that Congress fails to pass a second aid package, the length of our economic recovery increases, and more Utahns are pushed into financial insolvency.
If we are going to make it out of this disaster without dire consequences to those who can least afford it, we need immediate federal relief.
The current Republican proposal under discussion in Washington, D.C., slashes the unemployment benefits bonus from $600 to $200 per week. Even when combined with the base state-level unemployment payout (approximately 50% of pre-pandemic wages), Americans are still struggling to stay afloat.
The $600 in federal support allowed families to bridge that gap and was a lifeline throughout the stay-at-home orders. This additional relief kept food on the table and a roof over families' heads. Despite Utah’s unemployment rate slightly dropping last month, hundreds of thousands of people in our state still lack sufficient options for supplementing the income lost when these benefits lapsed.
Utahns cannot solve this crisis on our own. The funding for state and local government programs and services is equally important. Our state has been forced to make significant budget cuts that are only the beginning of a long series of increasingly drastic cuts with estimates that we are on track for a budget shortfall of up to $1.2 billion in the 2021 fiscal year.
Thanks to a sizable rainy day fund, the initial shock of the revenue shortfall has been mitigated and the budget cuts were limited, but that fund is finite. The fact is that public education, the environment, infrastructure and social services are being lined up for the chopping block if conditions do not improve soon.
Consequently, the funding for state and local governments in the House-passed CARES bill is crucial for Utah and states across the nation. We are all in this together and we need to support our local communities with federal funds so that critical services aren’t cut. State and local governments are the largest employers in the nation and, if we allow millions of employees to lose their jobs, the ramifications to our economy and our communities will be severe.
The COVID-19 crisis is far from over, and the failure of Congress to pass a second round of stimulus and financial aid legislation will cause needless suffering to thousands of vulnerable people. But we still have time to avoid the worst-case scenario if our senators act now.
We’re pleading with Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee to champion the cause for extending the $600 a week unemployment assistance for as long as this crisis continues, to fight for the state and local government funding, and to expand the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit. These last two provisions are proven poverty-fighting tools that strengthen working families and provide relief to those who truly need it.
These federal emergency actions will help ensure that the economic crisis ends when the public health crisis ends. In our current economic system, workers are the driving force of our economy. Directly investing in the segment of our workforce that has been most adversely affected by the steps we have taken to address the public health crisis will help get us out of this economic hole. A quick recovery is not possible when there is mass unemployment and underfunded programs.
What needs to happen is simple: Federal relief will not only stimulate our state economy, but also will offer the care and compassion Utahns need to survive in this unprecedented time. We cannot allow vulnerable families to be left without a lifeline — or one that is woefully inadequate.
Sens. Romney and Lee, the time to act is now.
Jonathan M. Ruga and Scott F. Young are members of the Patriotic Millionaires, a nonprofit group that promotes, among other fair policies, providing a sustaining wage for working Americans. They are co-founders of Sentry Financial Corp., Salt Lake City, and allocate significant time and resources to addressing the needs of vulnerable populations in our communities.