Congress must act quickly to help most vulnerable, lay ground for recovery

Protesters take part in the AFL-CIO Workers First Caravan for Racial and Economic Justice near the U.S. Capitol on June 17, 2020 in Washington DC. The caravan circled the U.S. Capitol and national mall while honking their car horns to bring attention to their cause. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

We live in a nation of plenty: Stocks on Wall Street keep rising in value and Americans produced $20 trillion in goods last year. But many working Ohioans and families in our state aren’t sharing in the abundance, and haven’t been for a long, long time.

Ohio’s job growth was 0.5% in 2019, about a third of the national growth rate, already slowing even before the pandemic caused the recession. Six of 10 of Ohio’s biggest occupation groups pay so little that a small family would need food aid to put dinner on the table. 

Because much of Ohio’s job growth has been in low-wage, consumer-driven sectors such as retail and food service, the COVID-19 induced recession hit hard. Nearly a year into the crisis, unemployed workers are scraping by to feed their families and pay their bills. In January, 586,000 Ohio families were behind on rent and risked facing homelessness.

Congress provided some relief, but not enough. By passing a COVID relief package in December, federal leaders provided an urgently needed down payment. Yet they left critical needs unmet, like allowing some unemployment benefits to expire in mid-March, before the crisis will end.

The greatest risk right now is doing too little, not too much. Millions are still out of work and doing all they can to cover basic expenses, such as food, rent or mortgage, car payments, and medical costs. The pandemic has caused widespread financial pain for Americans of all races.

But from the beginning, policies and practices oppressed, exploited and excluded Black, brown and Indigenous people, who still face obstacles to good jobs, housing, educational opportunities and health care. These groups have bet hit hardest by the recession and have gotten sickest from the virus, which is not yet under control. 

In past recessions, federal policymakers didn’t act boldly enough. Economic recovery was slow and painful or nonexistent, especially for people of color. We cannot afford for our elected leaders to repeat the mistakes of the Great Recession by refusing to deploy enough resources or by cutting back on aid too soon. Those mistakes led to a deeper, longer recession, and undermined the strength of our economy in the years that followed.

The bill moving through Congress now would help families stay afloat and get our nation on track for an economic recovery by:

  • Temporarily extending increased federal food assistance benefits, housing assistance  and the federal eviction moratorium so that people continue getting help affording food and keeping a roof overhead while the economy remains weak.
  • Temporarily extending additional federal unemployment assistance. 
  • Providing financial assistance (“stimulus checks”) that people can put towards their most urgent expenses, whether that’s car payments, medical expenses, utility bills, rent, or whatever else they need to keep from falling into a deeper financial hole.
  • Temporarily expanding the earned income tax credit for low-paid working adults not raising children.  
  • Temporarily enlarging the child tax credit and making it fully available to 27 million children — including roughly half of all Black and Latinx children — whose families now don’t get the full credit because their parents aren’t paid enough.
  • Providing state and local government fiscal relief, so water plants can keep operating, garbage can be collected and recreation centers can open back up when people are vaccinated.
  • Dedicating funds to support schools and public colleges as they reopen to students with new needs and financial stresses. 
  • Increasing aid so families of middle and modest incomes can afford health insurance in the Affordable Care Act marketplaces.

The Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker — cited by Governor DeWine in his budget proposal — highlights that while employment rates have rebounded to pre-COVID-19 levels for high-wage workers, they remain significantly lower for low-wage workers. Congress needs to act now to help those who struggle the most and lay the foundation for the quickest possible recovery.

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Wendy Patton
Wendy Patton is the team leader for the fiscal project of the State Priorities Partnership, which is affiliated with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Prior to joining Policy Matters Ohio in 2009, Wendy served as an executive assistant for economic development for Governor Ted Strickland, as a deputy director of business development for the Ohio Department of Development, as a vice president for the Columbus Urban Growth Corporation and as a program coordinator for the Ohio Employee Ownership Center. She worked with AFSCME international as an economic policy analyst, serving 13 states in tax and budget policy and forecasting revenues for collective bargaining. She has written about public finance, regional development, workforce training, steel and automobile supply chain configuration. Wendy has a master’s degree in city and regional planning from the University of California at Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree from Kent State University.