Editorial: Congress should stay in session until new relief deal is reached - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Congress should stay in session until new relief deal is reached

Perhaps the one thing New Mexicans of all political stripes can agree on these days is that their elected leaders in Washington, D.C., have collectively failed them – for months – by not delivering another economic rescue package targeted for those most in need, such as the 124,000 New Mexicans clinging to unemployment benefits to get by as the pandemic enters month seven.

Congress and President Donald Trump have been deadlocked for months on a new coronavirus relief package. An extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits approved in the CARES Act in March ran out July 31.

Then the Lost Wages Assistance program, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, provided an additional $300 a week to qualified unemployment claimants, but it expired Sept. 5 as funding dried up.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that New Mexico’s unemployment rate dropped from 12.7% in July to 11.3% in August. Still, unemployment in New Mexico is higher than all but five states. And the state’s unemployment rate doesn’t include those who are not actively seeking work, such as parents pushed out of the state’s 893,000-person labor market to supervise children performing distance-learning from home. Without a federal enhancement, unemployment benefits in New Mexico are not enough to get by. Weekly benefit checks range from $88 per week to about $460. Department of Workforce Solutions Cabinet Secretary Bill McCamley told the Journal’s Stephen Hamway last week the state’s unemployment trust fund, which stood at $465 million in mid-March, officially hit zero Sept. 8 after months of heavy use. So the state is borrowing up to $285 million from the U.S. Labor Department to keep unemployment programs operating through October.

In mid-May, the Democratic-led U.S. House voted to provide nearly $1 trillion of additional aid to states and local governments as part of a broad relief bill. But the legislation has stalled amid disagreements among Trump and Republican Senate leaders and Democrats over the size, scope and necessity of another relief package. In general, Republicans want a smaller, less costly version, and Democrats want hundreds of billions of additional dollars for states and local governments.

Congress and the president need to abandon their all-or-nothing approach and agree on areas where agreement can be reached. It seems like shoring up the unemployment funds of states like New Mexico would be a good start. More federal money for virus testing is essential.

This week House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the chamber would remain in session until there’s a deal on a new relief package. The Washington Post reported she told House Democrats on a conference call “we have to stay here until we have a bill.”

That illusion of dedication to constituents lasted just hours. Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Maryland, soon clarified lawmakers would not actually stay at work in Washington when the scheduled recess kicks in Oct. 2 – instead they will be on call in case a deal someone else is working on magically appears.

That’s what they’ve been doing for weeks. And New Mexicans – especially the tens of thousands who are out of work – know exactly how productive that’s been.

Pelosi has remained wedded to a broad $2 trillion package covering everything from unemployment to the post office. And while the president has supported a slimmed-down proposal, it’s still beefier than what the Republican leadership is pitching. White House adviser Jared Kushner said on CNBC a deal “may have to be after the election.”

Such a delay is inexcusable. Congress – including Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján and each and every other member of New Mexico’s delegation – should stay in session and hammer out a deal that may not be the whole package, but that gives struggling Americans at least half a loaf instead of the none they are holding now. And all congressional candidates should forgo any campaigning at home until they get a deal done.

After all, if they can’t govern and reach compromises for their constituents, why should they be re-elected?

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.

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