In the United States, in 2017, 75% of workers reported living paycheck to paycheck, barely keeping their head above water. They may be barely making ends meet — having food on the table, but still grappling with an inability to pay for even a $250 emergency expense like a visit to the dentist or a car repair. According to Bankrate’s 2019 Financial Security Index, nearly 3 in 10 Americans have no savings, and 1 in 4 couldn’t cover the recommended three months’ worth of living expenses. That in and of itself was a problem a year ago.
Then the pandemic hit.
Today, because of the subsequent job loss and economic impact for so many Americans, a staggering number of families are living in poverty. Research from Columbia University shows that the number of folks living in poverty has risen by 8 million since May. This is despite the CARES Act, which brought 18 million people above poverty level in April — successful, to be sure, but temporary. By late summer, that number had fallen to about 4 million, after the act’s $600 weekly unemployment supplement expired.
While the CARES Act helped some Americans, some were left in the dust, including my own family. We’ve not received our stimulus check and will not for the most idiotic of reasons — because my wife, who is a working citizen and pays her taxes, has attached to her social security card a notation that the social security administration’s files “allows her to work,” which deems her an immigrant and provides this government with the opportunity to discriminate against us. In our current America, as this government’s actions and lack of sustainable response shows us, not all families are valued. Unsurprisingly, the rising poverty rates have hit Black and Hispanic communities, and children, the hardest.
Those who did not make enough to file taxes needed to apply directly to the IRS’s portal to get the ball rolling on their stimulus check, an added task in their already stressful and long to-do list.
“Worst of all, by conditioning this aid on employment status the bill perversely ensures that ‘essential workers,’ those who continue to risk their health daily to operate public transport, staff our hospitals, stock our shelves, and deliver packages to keep the economy running, will receive little aid,” points out an op-ed in The Hill. “In New York City, estimates find that some 24 percent of those frontline workers are below the poverty line, 53 percent are foreign-born, and 19 percent are non-citizens. Many of them will receive no aid at all.”
Where is our leadership? The man who professed to “make America Great Again?” There isn’t anything great about millions of people living below the poverty line, which — for a family of four — is $26,200 in the lower 48 states. How would you budget and survive on $26,200? Could you?
The mixed messaging and toddler tantrums are confusing, unfair, and reckless when over 40 million lives are at stake. In a recent New York Times article, author Jason DeParle points out, among other crucial tidbits, that our government just is not prepared to handle the economic burdens we presently carry. He notes, “The recent rise in poverty has occurred despite an improving job market since May, an indication that the economy had been rebounding too slowly to offset the lost benefits. And now the economy is showing new signs of deceleration, amid layoffs, a surge in coronavirus cases and deadlocked talks in Washington over new stimulus.”
We are working within a system of politicians who lack empathy. Who don’t know the feeling of hunger pains, or worrying about paying the next hospital bill, or the feeling of putting $5 into one’s gas tank because that’s all they have, or what it’s like to wake up in a shelter with their three kids looking back at them — wanting something different, deserving something different. The reality is that there is no plan, no negotiating, no understanding of what it will take to get our country back on its feet, not by this administration. The CARES Act, the one-time payment to individuals at $1,200 per adult and $500 per kid may have made up for a few lost wages, but does not put food on the table when that money runs out. Where is the rest of the help American families need? This is not the time to be deadlocked.
According to The New York Times, the Democratic House has passed multitrillion-dollar financial aid packages, not once, but twice — only to be met with opposition by the Republican Senate and their proposals for smaller plans. And it doesn’t help that Trump himself has ping-ponged back and forth, abruptly pulling the plug on further stimulus talks on October 6th, then tweeting on October 13th that Congress should “go big” in regard to a stimulus package. He has also tweeted that “[I]mmediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business.” That’s not the response of an administration that gives a damn about the people its decisions affect.
Now, to add salt to the wound, Congress has adjourned until November 9th with no passing of any coronavirus aid bill whatsoever.
Nothing about The CARES Act is anything but a temporary answer to solving a much bigger problem. It’s a Band-Aid, if that, which does not cover much of anything. And now, because of the ineptitude of our country’s leadership, the Trump administration is taking their sweet time deciding how big the next Band-Aid should be, while they watch the American people bleed.