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Editorial: Economic rescue package good news for stressed NM

Help is on the way for workers, businesses and hospitals, and none too soon for the more than 31,000 New Mexicans who recently applied for unemployment benefits.

The $2.2 trillion economic rescue package approved by Congress and the president this week provides much-needed economic relief for laid-off employees all across New Mexico who are struggling to make ends meet as state and national jobless claims soar. It also provides critical funding for businesses battling to stay afloat and emergency funding for hospitals preparing for an onslaught of COVID-19 patients while short of basic supplies. Hopefully it will alleviate some of the anxiety of those 31,849 New Mexicans who joined the unemployment line March 19-26 and have no idea when they will return to work, and help struggling small businesses owners throughout the health and economic crises.

The mammoth bill, whose price tag is half the size of the entire annual federal budget, provides income-eligible payments of $1,200 per adult and $2,400 for married couples, with $500 payments per child. The bill also ensures paid leave for contractors at national labs, allocates $15.5 billion for a surge in food stamps, provides $150 million in grants for cultural and arts venues that are closed, prohibits foreclosures for 60 days on all federally backed mortgage loans, and places a 120-day moratorium on evictions from any property for which a landlord has a federally backed mortgage.

The bill will help owners and employees of bars, retail stores and theaters that have been forced to close, and restaurants that have been forced to limit service to carry-out and delivery, with a $367 billion program to help small businesses keep making payroll. That’s also good news for dental hygienists, optometrist office employees and others now home since the governor stopped non-essential health care services.

The bill also includes a $500 billion program for subsidized loans to larger industries, including airlines, $150 billion in grants to states and local authorities to fight the virus, a cash infusion estimated at $130 billion for hospitals expecting a flood of COVID-19 patients, and $400 million in grants to states to expand voting by mail – an issue New Mexico’s leaders need to tackle and resolve with the June 2 primary looming.

While the bill was trimmed of several non-germane provisions, it still contains too much funding for pet projects, such as $1.2 billion for renewable jet fuel, $75 million for public television and $25 million for the Kennedy Center.

Like New Mexico’s annual capital outlay bill that appropriates goodies to every state lawmaker’s district, the 880-page economic rescue package appears to have something for everyone on Capitol Hill. Providing funding for programs unrelated to the pandemic was an unfortunate but necessary concession to get bipartisan agreement and pass the U.S. Senate 96-0 Wednesday and the U.S. House by voice vote Friday.

Passage was the easy part; implementation is another issue. Doling out $2.2 trillion will require extensive oversight to ensure the money reaches the intended recipients. Remember shovel-ready? Meanwhile, it will provide furloughed workers $600 more per month on top of state unemployment benefits. Republicans worry that it incentivizes some not to work, begging the question why not emulate other nations and reimburse companies that keep folks on the payroll instead?

It was imperative the federal government, the only American entity that prints and backs money, pass the economic rescue package to help the country get to the other side of this deepening health crisis. It’s a sad commentary that keeping it to a targeted emergency aid package was a bridge too far for our politicians.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.