As badly as the U.S. has mishandled the pandemic, there’s been one bright spot: Despite historic unemployment, the poverty rate in America hasn’t significantly increased. This happy paradox is mostly due to the $600 that the federal government has been adding to state unemployment benefits each week since April. The program has essentially buffered workers from the effects of the economic shutdown.
But that benefit ends at the end of this week (not at the end of the month, as many mistakenly thought). This cliff comes as a coronavirus surge washes across the nation, threatening new shutdowns. Unless Congress wants to see an even more devastating human, economic and political toll, it should renew this funding immediately.
The Cares Act that Congress passed in March was by no means perfect. Much of its unprecedented $2.2 trillion in federal money went to big businesses that didn’t need it. But the provision providing that additional $600 a week to people thrown off their jobs by the pandemic was, for millions, an essential lifeline.
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