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Editorial: There should be no celebration in D.C. on this Labor Day

As nearly 90,000 New Mexicans are trying to make ends meet with diminished jobless benefits and only about half the 22 million jobs lost nationally to COVID-19 having been recovered so far, there should be little cause for celebration in Washington, D.C., this somber Labor Day.

National leaders have let Americans down, deadlocked for weeks on the size and scope of a new coronavirus relief bill. Meanwhile, more than 4,100 New Mexicans filed new unemployment claims in the week ending Aug. 22.

Congress approved a $600 per-week bonus pandemic jobless benefit in late March that kept millions of people from falling into poverty, but the enhanced benefit expired in July. The House and Senate have been deadlocked since then on a bill that would temporarily restore some amount of federal enhancement of unemployment benefits.

Roughly 29 million Americans are receiving state unemployment benefits but are no longer drawing the extra $600 a week. As Congress struggles, the Trump administration has set up a program to provide some of the unemployed with $300 a week, but the new rules make many people ineligible and result in greatly diminished relief for everyone else.

New Mexico was cleared for the $300 federal unemployment booster program, but the temporary program left out about 2,000 New Mexicans who were ineligible for the extra federal money because their normal weekly unemployment benefit wasn’t at least $100. The Department of Workforce Solutions is applying for additional weeks of funding to maximize benefits for New Mexicans.

The Democrat-controlled U.S. House passed the $3.45 trillion HEROES Act in May, but Republicans who control the Senate want something closer to a $1 trillion package focused on unemployment benefits with language giving businesses limited liability protection.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has agreed to lower her proposal for state and local governments by almost $1 trillion, but President Donald Trump remains opposed to what he calls bailing out local and state governments he says have been mismanaged by Democrats for generations. Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer continue to insist on a huge aid package that would extend child care assistance and include additional funding for food stamps, renters and homeowners, and state and local governments.

CNN reported last month that Trump and Pelosi have not spoken since a White House meeting last October during which Pelosi stood up and walked out. Since then, top Trump administration officials have negotiated directly with Pelosi, but with little effect on a fifth COVID-19 response bill.

Trump and Pelosi’s inability to work together is appalling. Yes, there’s sufficient blame for both sides, but letting so many unemployed people hang in the balance is dismaying.

U.S. Rep Deb Haaland told the Journal Editorial Board last week that Democrats want other measures in a relief package besides unemployment enhancement, such as funding for the U.S. Postal Service and protection from evictions. But when pressed on whether she would support a bill that only addresses unemployment, the Albuquerque Democrat said she’s “willing to do whatever is necessary” to help the people in her district.

That was encouraging.

As members of Congress barbecue today, out-of-work New Mexicans worry about how they are going to pay their bills. Members of Congress and the president all need to put aside their differences and focus on restoring a federal unemployment benefit and the other issues that most directly effect the many Americans harmed economically by the pandemic.

Even if done in parts, action is needed to protect everyday people, and our leaders in Washington need to do it quickly – which means compromise, as dirty as that word seems in politics today.

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.