Editorial: Washington must act on Covid relief

The public health menace of the coronavirus will eventually subside, thanks to the marvels of medical science and, hopefully, a competent, federally led vaccine campaign under the new Biden-Harris administration. But how much more damage can our nation’s economy be expected to endure while a fractured Congress — still bickering and posturing over a now-long-decided presidential election— dithers and dodges?

It has been nine long months since a legislative package— the CARES Act passed by the US House— brought some relief to American businesses, homeowners, and renters. The emergency funds afforded back in March have been exhausted, but the emergency itself surges on and can be expected to accelerate in the coming weeks. It is unconscionable that Congress has yet to come to agreement on a compromise that will break the stalemate before the calendar year ends and a long, deadly, and depressing winter firmly sets in.

Last week, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker joined four other Republican governors in urging Congress to get a bill passed. “We recognize that there are legitimate differences of opinion on what an ideal package should contain, but these differences pale in comparison to the cost of doing nothing,” they wrote. “There is no more room for partisan positioning and political gamesmanship. Congress must come together and take action now.”

The mounting crisis is particularly urgent here in the Northeast and other cold-weather states. Winter temps will take a major chunk of business away from the outdoor patios that have been a lifeline for eateries. Heating bills are piling up for everyone. Eviction notices, despite a US Centers for Disease Control moratorium that ends on Dec. 31, are climbing: 743 new cases were filed in Massachusetts during the week of Nov. 30, the most since last January.

Meanwhile, the scourge of the virus accelerates. Mayor Walsh, clearly frustrated by the post-Thanksgiving bump, warned last Thursday: “The next step is shutting everything down…We’ve done that before and, you know, we’re three weeks away from Christmas.” While it may be a last resort, it’s hardly an unlikely outcome given the trajectory we are on. Congress and the outgoing president must act this week to protect the nation from economic calamity.

– Bill Forry