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If GOP blocks Biden's COVID rescue plan, America's working poor will suffer

The Hill logo The Hill 2/1/2021 Mark Wolfe and Deborah Weinstein, opinion contributors
a person talking on a cell phone: If GOP blocks Biden's COVID rescue plan, America's working poor will suffer © Getty Images If GOP blocks Biden's COVID rescue plan, America's working poor will suffer

President Joe Biden's proposed $1.9 trillion COVID relief proposal, known as the "American Rescue Plan" would prevent millions of working families from falling even deeper into poverty. It is desperately needed, because the COVID-recession has resulted in millions of low-income workers losing their jobs, working fewer hours and having to stay home to care for children out of school due to the pandemic.

We know some conservatives on Capitol Hill are worried that it's too soon to pass another relief bill. But our economy will not have turned around by March 14, when the December bill's unemployment benefits will expire. We hope Republicans will reconsider their reluctance to support this legislation, based on empirical evidence about the staggering impacts the pandemic is having on millions of vulnerable Americans.

Understand, nearly 18 million jobless workers were claiming unemployment benefits as of Jan. 2. The latest data show 45 consecutive weeks of new unemployment claims higher than the worst week of the Great Recession of 2008-2009. Americans are $70 billion behind on rent and $32 billion behind on utility bills.

At the end of December, close to 90 million people reported that their households found it somewhat or very difficult to pay their usual household expenses in the previous week, according to the Census Bureau's Household Pulse survey. Close to one in four people in households with children say they have fallen behind in their rent. More than 18 percent of adults living with children say their households did not have enough to eat in the past week.


Video: Rucker: Biden's tour to promote his American Rescue Plan is also about restoring faith in government (MSNBC)

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In response to this economic tragedy for America's working poor, the plan proposed by President Biden is more than twice the size of the Obama-era Recovery Act and is modeled on a "New Deal" strategy to put our country in a better position than it was before the pandemic hit. Ultimately, as Congress and the White House negotiate this legislation, we are hoping to secure $10 billion for utility bill relief.

The American Rescue Plan extends unemployment, nutrition, and housing assistance months beyond the deadlines set in Congress' December package, and distributes vaccines, protects families, and bolsters the economy. This bill will pull families back from the brink of homelessness. The evidence is clear: Congress must act and act soon to pass the American Rescue Plan.

Mark Wolfe is an energy economist who serves as the executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, representing state directors of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

Deborah Weinstein is the Executive Director of the Coalition on Human Needs.

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