Our Opinion: Congress must pass assistance for states
Political partisanship has not been a significant problem up to this point in Washington's efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic financially. A $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill designed to help states and the towns and cities within them will test that recent bipartisanship.
First District U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, who chairs the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, made the case for the relief package Wednesday in a press conference outside the building housing his Springfield office. ("Neal calls to invest now to 'stem tide of disease'," May 14.) The bill would designate $500 billion for the states directly, with $22.5 billion going to Massachusetts. Some of that would be passed on to municipalities int the form of grants. Other provisions include $200 billion in hazard pay for health care workers, $75 billion for increased virus testing and a 15 percent increase in food stamp funding.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has reacted negatively to the package, but as Rep. Neal pointed out, he originally opposed other relief packages before coming around to support them. Gov. Baker is among the Republican governors backing the bill and it will difficult for Republican senators to oppose this aid for their states.
A question posed by The Eagle and unanswered by the Western Mass. congressman about the fairness of requiring future generations to pay off these huge relief packages is legitimate. But this is an extraordinary financial crisis, with states having to finance efforts to combat the pandemic while losing revenue because of the lockdown's impact on businesses. With the nation facing an economic downturn "without modern precedent" according to Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, this crisis must be addressed now before it becomes even worse.
Compromises will have to be made to get the bill through Congress. Republicans will want cuts and Democrats should then insist on a repeal of the 2017 tax cuts that further expanded the deficit. Tax increases could be included with the proviso that they be enacted in 2022. This would lessen the crushing burden on future generations. But the relief package, even if altered, must be passed and signed into law. It is desperately needed.
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