As Millions Lose Their Jobs, Politicians Disagree on the Crumbs to Give Workers

Image credit: REUTERS / Joshua Roberts

For months, Democrats and Republicans in Congress have taken turns stalling the passage of any new round of relief for unemployed workers while unemployment has continued to skyrocket. Both parties continued their stalling tactics even when the $600 weekly federal stimulus for the unemployed expired at the end of July. Each party has blamed the other for these delays in order to appear to be on the side of working people. Even though this is a tiny amount of money compared to the trillions of dollars given to banks and corporations during this period, for many working families it can determine whether or not there is food on the table, or there is enough to pay the rent.

Now Trump has jumped in from the podium of his luxury golf course to pretend to save the day for workers and the poor, and try to save himself from his decline in the polls. He has signed some pathetic executive orders promising stimulus funds. But his order only provides an additional $400 in weekly unemployment benefits. And this time, the federal government will only supply $300 of this amount while the states have to put in the additional $100. Many states may not cover the $100 because state budgets are starting to run out of money as so many workers are out of work and not paying income taxes. When asked why the stimulus was so low, Trump, echoing several members of Congress, said that anything higher would not provide people with an incentive to go back to work.

Trump signed three other executive orders – all with the same goal of posturing as if he’s on the side of working people. One order freezes the payroll tax on workers making less than $8,000 per month until an unspecified date in the future. This is the 7.65% tax taken out of workers’ checks to pay into Social Security and Medicare. This is just a temporary tax cut that workers will have to pay back later, most likely after the November elections. And it’s not as if having that money taken out in one lump sum in the future would be of any help to workers.

Rather than extending the federal moratorium on evictions that expired last month, another order proposes that government agencies “consider” ways to keep people in their homes. It offers no financial relief and no official ban on evictions. A real joke. An estimated 12 million renters who’ve fallen behind on their payments could face eviction while government agencies “consider” what to do.

Trump’s final order waives all interest on student loans held by the federal government through the end of 2020. None of the debt is to be forgiven, and the full payment (minus the interest) is still due on December 31. Given how many people have lost their jobs, it is not clear how they will have the money to pay at the end of the year.

At the same time, it is not even clear whether Trump’s executive orders will be carried out because they will likely face further legal challenges since Congress is supposed to be the only governing body to approve federal funding of this sort. The real goal of these orders is for Trump to appear to be helping people despite the fact that his administration has spent the last few months completely failing to do what was necessary to contain the spread of the virus while the economic crisis that’s resulted shows no end in sight.

Meanwhile, last week another 1.19 million people filed for unemployment benefits. Since mid-March, over 55 million people have filed for unemployment benefits – the highest of any previous five-month period. The reason workers aren’t returning to work is not because they’ve been receiving too much relief, as Trump and others have suggested. People aren’t returning to work because they don’t have jobs to return to.

As Democrats and Republicans posture for votes in the upcoming election, they have no problem using workers’ lives as bargaining chips in their political poker games. Even if Trump’s executive orders go through, there’s no telling when we will actually see any of this money. And since both parties have already delayed offering relief for so long, all they’ve done is made a horrible situation even worse.

The truth is, none of them, neither Democrats nor Republicans, are on the side of working people. When banks and corporations request relief funds and tax breaks, trillions of dollars can be made available at any time. But when it comes to the millions of working people who’ve been cast into misery from the impact of this pandemic, suddenly there’s no money to be found.