Editorial: New relief package is welcome, but there’s still more work to do

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 22, 2020

It was welcome news Sunday that Congress reached a compromise on an estimated $900 billion financial relief package and was on track late Monday for passage.

Notably, there will be $600 checks headed to most Americans, with more possible for couples making less than $150,000 and an additional $600 per dependent child. The package will add another round of Paycheck Protection Plan funding for small businesses, and unemployment benefits will receive a much-needed boost.

It’s a long-awaited step toward helping people behind on bills or still out of work. But the package will not be enough to end the economic depression still affecting large segments of society. Consider, for example, that median gross rent is $786 in the city of Salisbury and $772 in Rowan County. The median monthly costs for owner-occupied housing units, including a mortgage, is $1,097.

Because the country is in a K-shaped recovery, with some bouncing back quickly and others struggling more than ever, $600 will not be enough to keep whole people who lost their jobs or got behind on bills this year. Increased pandemic unemployment benefits from the federal government ended in July. Previous stimulus checks have already been exhausted.

One response to those complaining about the federal government not doing enough goes something like “Get a job. There are plenty available.” But the people out of work do not always have the skills available to immediately jump into a new position. Even for people who can make a transition, there’s usually a period of days, weeks or months between jobs.

Society’s methods of communication also are so fragmented that looking for a job requires searching through several job boards and hoping that your skills will stand out to the algorithms that sort through resum├ęs or finding places accepting applications. Today, people are so involved in their curated social media feeds they may don’t know about a place hiring down the street until a friend tells them.

Packages in the hundreds of billions of dollars are not good for the national debt or deficit spending, but a global pandemic that’s created a recession is not the time to start crowing about fiscal responsibility. The time to budget in a more responsible manner was when the country was setting economic records and before 2020 turned into a year everyone looks forward to leaving behind.

Congress should enter the new year ready to evaluate economic data quickly and compromise on a new solution. The newest package will not be enough, particularly because it reportedly includes no new funding for state and local governments. An ideal solution keeps people, business and local governments afloat and makes progress toward improving on people’s economic well-being before the pandemic.

Members of Congress shouldn’t start slapping themselves on the back yet. Because state government was the source of shutdowns that hurt businesses and caused job losses, North Carolina’s General Assembly also has more work to do.