Congress should go big on recovery

Congress should go big on recovery

With time running out on federal Covid relief programs that have arbitrary end dates, President Joe Biden’s economic stimulus plan moved forward Friday morning with a narrow U.S. Senate vote on a budget resolution that loomed as a key procedural hurdle. The 51-50 vote ensures that the $1.9 trillion package only needs a simple majority in the Senate instead of the 60-vote supermajority required to overcome a filibuster. The Washington Post’s Erica Werner and Jeff Stein explain:

With the budget resolution nearly complete, Congress can turn in earnest to writing Biden’s expansive pandemic relief proposal into law — and push it through the Senate, without Republican votes if necessary, under the special rules unlocked by the budget legislation. That process will take weeks, with Democrats eyeing mid-March as the deadline for final passage of the relief legislation because that is when enhanced unemployment benefits will expire if Congress doesn’t act first.

As George Fenton at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities argues, the real risk in a new aid package would come in doing too little:

Some adversity from COVID-19 was inevitable, but further, lasting economic damage isn’t. Timely enactment of an appropriately scaled relief package can avoid the mistakes of the Great Recession, when policymakers didn’t follow up on the 2009 Recovery Act with a big enough further fiscal response, resulting in a slower recovery and greater long-term harm for households and the economy. The burdens of a delayed recovery would likely be largest for Black and Latino workers, who are often “last hired, first fired” and see a sharper increase and slower subsequent decline in unemployment than white workers. In the Great Recession, the drop in Black employment began two months before that for white workers and lasted 15 months longer.

Drawing fair districts
Every 10 years Louisiana redraws its political boundaries using new population numbers from the decennial census. This process can ensure fair representation across Louisiana, or tilt the scales in one party’s favor by diluting the votes of their opponents. This year, with the Republican-controlled Legislature in charge of drawing the districts and the Democratic governor holding veto authority, the non-partisan Fair Districts Louisiana is urging lawmakers to make sure that Louisiana’s districts reflect the composition of its electorate. The Center-Square’s David Jacobs has more:

“When we approve new district lines this year, every Louisianan should end up with equal representative power, something that we can only achieve with fair districts,” state Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, said in a prepared statement. “Right now, too many voices have been effectively silenced as a result of gerrymandering. As legislators, we have to bring our best selves to the table this year and demonstrate integrity as state leaders.” James and state Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, are the first lawmakers to sign the pledge, Fair Districts Louisiana said.

For people without cars, vaccines could be a world away
An estimated 145,000 Louisiana households – roughly 1 in 8 – don’t have a vehicle. Even before the pandemic, such limited access to transportation made it harder for people to get to work, bring food home from the store and avoid social isolation. These problems have been compounded by the pandemic. Stateline’s Jenni Bergal reports on how states are struggling to vaccinate people who can’t drive to mass vaccination sites or live far from pharmacies and other providers:

“My concern is that in those areas, low-income and elderly people are not going to have access to the vaccine,” (New Orleans City Councilwoman Cyndi) Nguyen said. “If they don’t have access, they may lean toward saying, ‘I’m not going to take it.’” In the Lower Ninth Ward, she said, there is only one clinic and no pharmacies, so officials need to come up with other solutions. “You have to get the vaccine to where people are at. We’ve got to look at bringing in mobile vaccine buses and exploring other options like churches,” she said. “We don’t want people frustrated and overwhelmed because they don’t have ways of getting to the vaccine.”

Black restaurant workers getting stiffed for Covid enforcement
For many restaurant workers, the Covid-19 pandemic has meant unemployment or sharp cuts to working hours. And for those servers who have managed to hold onto their jobs, customers’ hostility to Covid rules has often turned their dining rooms into hostile workplaces. Now, a report by One Fair Wage finds that customers retaliate against Black workers more harshly than their white counterparts by withholding tips. The federal tipped minimum wage, a legacy of slavery, is $2.13 an hour. The Washington Post’s Tracy Jan has the story:

Nearly 90 percent of Black workers said their tips dropped 50 percent or more after returning to work during the pandemic, compared with 72 percent of White workers, the report said. More than 70 percent of Black workers said customers tipped them less for enforcing social distancing and mask rules, compared with 60 percent of White workers. …. “We already knew customers tipped Black people less than White people before the pandemic, but then to be punished more than other workers for trying to enforce these rules makes this an issue of life and death,” Jayaraman said.

Number of the Day
1 in 3 – Proportion of jobless Americans now classified as “long-term unemployed” by the U.S. Department of Labor — roughly 4 million people. People facing long term unemployment due to a recession have a harder time finding new work than those who have experienced shorter spells of joblessness. (Source: Politico)