While the end-of-year COVID relief package is not as comprehensive as we would have hoped, it provides substantial relief that our neighbors, communities, and state urgently need to get through these next few months.
All in all, this end-of-year COVID relief package is a down payment and a step in the right direction. We look forward to the new Congress and new Administration swiftly acting in 2021 to provide the additional relief that Floridians and our economy need.
New research shows that hardship is only increasing. Fifteen percent of Floridians have reported difficulty getting enough to eat, 23 percent are behind on rent, and 38 percent are struggling with usual household expenses, according to a recent analysis by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
We are hopeful this package will help alleviate some of the hardship by providing much-needed rental assistance and extending the eviction moratorium until January 31; increasing SNAP benefits by 15 percent to help families afford enough to eat; extending unemployment benefits for Floridians who lost their jobs through no fault of their own; and providing one-time direct payments people can put towards their most urgent expenses, whether it’s utility bills, car payments, medical expenses, or whatever they find most necessary. The package also includes a ‘lookback’ provision that will ensure millions of low-income individuals and families will not lose some of their Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit refund — money they are likely counting on to pay bills and support their families — because their 2020 earnings were lower due to the pandemic.
At the same time, this package falls short in several areas. First, it fails to provide desperately needed aid to our state and localities. Without additional support, we will see our state and local elected officials make troubling cuts to critical services and lay off essential public employees like our teachers, firefighters, and bus drivers, all playing important roles in our day-to-day lives.
Secondly, despite the growing needs millions are facing, the relief provided is far too brief. It includes just a one-month extension of the eviction moratorium, only extends jobless benefits through mid-March, and increases SNAP benefits for just six months. And while the deal extends tax credits for businesses that provide paid leave, it fails to extend workers’ right to take that leave when they get sick, have to take care of a loved one, or balance work and caregiving needs when schools are closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, it was past due and Floridians could not wait any longer for relief. This relief package will make the holidays just a bit brighter for our communities, and Congress should redouble their efforts in the New Year.