The clock is ticking on much-needed financial relief for the United States economy amid a brutal surge in COVID-19 infections across the country.
Congress is rushing to strike a stimulus deal as a number of stimulus programs — including provisions for self-employed Americans, paid sick leave related to the coronavirus, a moratorium on evictions and employee retention credits for businesses — are scheduled to expire at the end of the year.
Currently, lawmakers have put forth a bipartisan bill worth $908 billion, which would include $288 billion for small businesses, an additional $180 billion in unemployment insurance and $16 billion toward the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. It would not include the $1,200 in checks paid to Americans as part of the CARES Act enacted in late March.
According to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the House of Representatives is preparing to vote tomorrow on a stopgap measure in an effort to avoid a partial government shutdown at the end of the week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell added that his chamber would also vote on the resolution, which would give lawmakers a one-week extension to Dec. 18 to try to reach an agreement on a package that could help support American families, businesses and states.
Over the past several months, the Federal Reserve has taken unprecedented steps to limit pandemic-induced economic damage, including holding the benchmark interest rate near zero, purchasing massive amounts of securities, lowering the rate it charges banks for loans and lending directly to major corporations.
Still, many businesses are struggling to keep the lights on as well as retain their workers. Last month, total non-farm payrolls rose by only 245,000 — well below economists’ predictions of a gain of 440,000 jobs. It represented the fifth consecutive month of decelerating job gains.
Experts have suggested that it would likely take years before the millions of jobs recorded prior to the pandemic can be recovered. Although the current unemployment rate is at 6.7%, another wave of the outbreak is leading an increasing number of state and local governments to impose new lockdowns that are forcing nonessential businesses to once again shutter their doors and put more people out of work.
To date, Johns Hopkins University researchers have recorded more than 14.95 million COVID-19 cases and at least 283,800 deaths in the U.S. Health authorities have predicted that these numbers will continue to climb as the holiday season and the cooler months have led to more crowds and indoor gatherings that can accelerate the virus’ spread.