Massachusetts Lawmakers Press for COVID Stimulus Checks

As the coronavirus continues to devastate families, several Massachusetts Congress members are vying for direct financial relief. But the debate in Congress continues to be deeply divided and without compromise.

(TNS) — Massachusetts lawmakers are pressing for a robust COVID-19 stimulus package, including direct payments to Americans, as congressional leaders and the Trump administration continue haggling over proposals as they have over the course of the pandemic.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday proposed a $916 billion package that included $600 checks to most Americans — too meager in the eyes of several Massachusetts Democrats, and he would fund them through a potential nonstarter for many Republicans and Democrats alike: slashing a proposed $300 weekly boost to unemployment insurance.

Democrats have long pushed for at least $1,200 checks, and President Donald Trump has often called for a bold package that would be costlier than anything backed by his Republican allies. Yet a recent bipartisan $908 billion proposal included no stimulus checks at all.

“The people that I represent are not asking me about what polls are saying or what is the bipartisan appetite, they’re asking about what relief are you going to deliver that’s going to make my life better and keep me safe,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley told MSNBC this week. The pressure comes as supplemental unemployment benefits run out the day after Christmas and state and local leaders say funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act have dried up.

Pressley said thousands of people in her district are grappling with food insecurity, unemployment and potential eviction.

“We need to get direct cash assistance to the American people, recurring cash stimulus payments, an eviction and foreclosure moratorium, rent and mortgage cancellation, we need to extend and expand unemployment benefits and of course we need a massive infusion of federal funds for state and municipal aid to support relief efforts and the distribution of a vaccine,” Pressley added.

“The American people need help and they need help now,” wrote six Senate Democrats, including Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, in a letter to colleagues Tuesday led by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. “We agree with President-elect (Joe) Biden that a $1,200 direct payment should be included in this proposal.”

The senators also called for $500 payments for dependents, and are fighting against any language “to give a liability shield to corporations who threaten the health and safety of workers and customers.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — looking to blunt lawsuits against businesses over COVID-19 — has described liability protections as a dealbreaker that must be included in any new stimulus.

Rep. Katherine Clark told WBUR on Tuesday that the liability protections represent a “callous disregard for the American people and what they are going through.”

“Corporate liability protections do not stop families from losing their homes or put food on their tables,” Clark tweeted. “Yet, Mitch McConnell has refused to pass relief without it. He always puts profits over people. The fact is we can’t do too much or move too fast to help the American people.”

“We cannot agree to release employers who have caused their employees to get sick or to die from their responsibilities,” Warren told reporters Monday. “Part of the reason for that is that will affect future behavior. COVID cases continue to climb and that means we need employers to be more vigilant, not less.”

Warren added that unemployed Americans currently receiving an extra $600 are “barely making it,” and “cutting that in half does not make their lives easier.”

McConnell this week said the Senate “knows all about end-of-year drama, but this time the stakes could not be higher.” He claimed “Democrats need to let Congress do our job and pass more relief.”

“Americans are struggling under the weight of this pandemic,” he said. “We have so much common ground. Let’s make law. Let’s get it done.”

Nearly 60 House Democrats, including Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Jim McGovern, wrote to congressional leaders calling for direct checks to Americans.

“We have learned from the CARES Act that the (stimulus checks) saved many families from financial ruin and sheltered the economy as a whole,” the House Democrats wrote, noting many Americans spent checks on groceries, utility bills, rent and consumer debts. The stimulus checks helped save people from property and propped up the economy over the second quarter due to a boost in consumer spending, the lawmakers said.

Markey, who has pushed for recurring $2,000 checks, urged Congress on Tuesday to boost home energy assistance programs by $10 billion as the pandemic has left millions of Americans facing rent, mortgage and utilities debt.

Markey said the push comes as Republican lawmakers “block our efforts to extend unemployment funding and housing aid. We need to work together.” He noted the funds could be worked into the new stimulus package or the final appropriations bill of the year.

McGovern told the Worcester Regional Chamber last week that he hoped an economic relief package for small businesses soon. “The truth is that we’re not going to have an effective recovery without robust federal support,” McGovern said, citing nearly 12 million people nationwide, and 300,000 in Massachusetts, whose supplemental unemployment benefits will expire Dec. 26.

“Massachusetts has taken some steps to provide stopgap relief to keep as many people on benefits as possible,” McGovern said. “But the stark reality is that Beacon Hill alone can not manage it.”

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