By Rep. Austin Davis
In March, we had to ask the most of our residents: We asked them to stay home.
We asked them to forego their financial security, close businesses and have faith in the government to do the right thing.
“We’ve got your backs,” we said. “Programs will be available to you if you find yourself unemployed as a result of COVID-19.”
And while programs were made available through the federal CARES Act, so many residents and small business owners in my district alone have gone without, falling through the cracks created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now the CARES Act funding is set to expire Dec. 30, and we need Congress to act, and fast.
Our congressional representatives obviously have our best interests in mind, but now is the worst possible time to play politics on Capitol Hill. If extended, the CARES Act – which established the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund – could continue to be the backbone that has allowed our economy to carry on, even if on one leg. Allowing this program to expire without a plan in place is economical suicide, and will signal the beginning of long, agonizing months ahead for our most vulnerable residents.
Since the novel coronavirus took hold in Pennsylvania, my office has helped more than 2,000 constituents, many of whom were looking for assistance with state-related matters geared toward COVID-19. However, my office itself has struggled to fully help residents settle their disputes, especially when it comes to unemployment compensation, thanks to the average six-week – that’s right, six weeks – wait for the Department of Labor and Industry to respond to claims. Some residents, sadly enough, have yet to receive help from the department, still awaiting action on claims they submitted in March.
So, no – the CARES Act and the connected programs are not foolproof. But simply doing nothing is a disservice to residents.
Luckily, some members of Congress are hearing our call-to-action, unveiling a bipartisan stimulus package proposal with the hope of breaking the ongoing deadlock in Washington.
The proposed plan is a compromise or “interim package” between Democrats’ requested $2.2 trillion package and Republicans’ $500 billion. Though it’s entitled to change, this proposal would provide $300 a week in federal unemployment benefits; $240 billion in funding for state and local governments; an additional $300 million for small businesses; $40 billion for transit agencies; rental assistance for people facing eviction; and $50 billion in health care funding, including help with COVID-19 testing, tracing and vaccine distribution.
Legislatures at the state level have exhausted their resources. It’s now up to Congress to take action, and I’m urging members of Congress to do so before it’s too late.
Residents’ livelihood and the future of Pennsylvania’s small businesses depend on it.
State Rep. Austin Davis is a legislator in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, serving the 35th Legislative District and chairman of the Allegheny County House Democratic Delegation for the 2021-22 legislative session.