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It is good news that the U.S. Senate may — finally — begin consideration of another coronavirus relief bill next week. However, it is discouraging that the proposal floated by Senate Republicans appears to be inadequate to the needs of American workers, families and businesses.
Sen. Susan Collins has already said the Republican proposal was inadequate.
“This isn’t over and we do need another coronavirus package, and we do need to meet a lot of needs,” Collins told Maine Public.
Several Republican senators are pushing for a $500 billion package that would include money for the Postal Service, an expanded federal unemployment benefit of roughly $300 a week, liability protections for schools and businesses and more money for hospitals and testing, Maine Public reported.
The proposal, according to news reports, includes no money for state and local governments, which face large budget shortfalls because of the coronavirus pandemic and its economic consequences.
The Republican plan is a far cry from the $3 trillion relief package passed by the House in May. The House package includes nearly $1 billion for state and local governments, a resumption of $600 weekly enhanced unemployment benefits and another round of stimulus checks for individuals and families.
In July, Senate Republican leadership was considering a $1 trillion aid plan. It included money for schools and financial help for individuals and families.
At that time, we said there was a lot of room for negotiation between the two proposals. Unfortunately, negotiations fell apart and no further help for American workers, families and business has been forthcoming from Congress.
The new $500 billion Republican plan may be a positive step in that any relief is better than no relief. But it moves in the wrong direction by paring back financial assistance to American families and those who remain unemployed. From a negotiation standpoint, however, perhaps Republicans can now argue that a larger plan, if one is forthcoming, is a compromise.
This may be smart politics, but it is bad for Americans who are still suffering from the lack of a coordinated, sustained federal response to the coronavirus and the economic consequences that have accompanied it.
Gov. Janet Mills remains hopeful that Congress will pass a relief package.
Earlier this week, she gave state departments more time to submit budget plans for next year. She has asked departments to prepare budgets with a 10 percent spending cut.
The state is facing a $524 million shortfall for this budget year and a projected $1.4 billion revenue shortfall through mid-2023.
“All sectors — local governments, state government, education, business, tourism, nonprofits — remain severely impacted, and federal support is necessary to continue to support a national recovery,” Mills wrote in a July 20 letter to Maine’s congressional delegation.
She then detailed the many areas, including health care, education, unemployment and tourism, that needed additional federal support.
None of those needs have diminished as the number of new coronavirus cases is rising in Maine — in large part because of a wedding in the Katahdin region that has spread the virus as far as York County.
Unemployment claims in Maine rose slightly last week after leveling off from a peak in the spring. Roughly 67,500 workers filed continuing weekly claims for state and federal benefits last week. That’s a rise from the 64,100 continued claims filed the previous week.
Maine, like other states, is still working hard to get the coronavirus pandemic under control while businesses and schools reopen. Additional targeted fiscal relief that works, like enhanced unemployment benefits and state financial aid, is overdue. It is time for Congress to work through election year politics and to deliver for the American people.