OUTLINES GOALS AS NEW CHAIR OF THE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
ABOVE: Congressman Gregory Meeks discusses efforts to save the USPS outside the Jamaica Post Office over the summer.
BY BENJAMIN FANG
With President Donald Trump signing the $900 billion COVID-19 relief package, Americans struggling with the pandemic and economic crisis are finally going to receive some help.
The stimulus package includes $600 in direct payments going to most people, $300 in weekly unemployment benefits, $82 billion for education resources, $70 billion for vaccines, test-and-trace and other public health programs, and $285 billion for small business aid by replenishing the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
Despite passing the relief bill, many members of the New York Congressional Delegation, including Congressman Gregory Meeks, have warned that this stimulus package is not enough.
“It’s not the deal I wanted in the beginning,” he said. “But something is better than nothing.”
Meeks called the end-of-the-year stimulus package a “short-measured” relief bill, something that should have been passed months ago. He noted that this version of the relief package did not include aid for cities and states, which are facing severe deficits due to the pandemic.
The result of the “concerning” lack of funding will likely be furloughing municipal workers, such as firefighters, police officers, health care workers and teachers, which Meeks said is a devastating problem, especially during a crisis.
“To me, that’s a huge issue that’s not been included directly,” he said. “The Republican senators did not want to include it.”
Unemployment insurance benefits have also been reduced to $300 per week, while the $600 stimulus checks going to most people is less than what Meeks wanted.
“$600 is better than no dollars,” he added. “It’s a compromise bill. I would love to have done more.”
Meeks said the House passed the more robust HEROES Act in May, which took into consideration an array of issues like small businesses losing nearly all of their revenue, people losing jobs and health care, and tenants unable to pay the rent.
The $3.2 billion package, which was never passed in the Senate, also included aid for states and municipalities, resources for mortgage holders and money for testing sites and vaccine distribution.
The second iteration of the HEROES Act, a $2.2 trillion, trimmed down version introduced in late September, also included the RESTAURANTS Act, which would create a $120 billion stabilization grant fund to help food and drink establishments hit hard by the pandemic.
The grants would have helped bars, restaurants and caterers cover the difference between revenues from 2019 and projected revenues through 2020, including expenses like payroll, rent, maintenance and supplies. The bill also set aside $60 billion for minority and women-owned small businesses.
“It’s something I think is badly needed,” Meeks said. “I will continue to push to make sure it’s in the next stimulus.”