”President Joe Biden has inherited an even worse situation than our nation faced back in 2009: a national health crisis that has led to the deaths of more than 400,000 Americans on top of an economic catastrophe that has put tens of millions out of work and shuttered hundreds of thousands of businesses, with both crises hitting communities of color especially hard. Unfortunately, his efforts to restore the economy by putting money in people’s pockets and saving jobs are already being met with opposition from those claiming we can’t afford it. They are using the same arguments they used to undermine the ARRA that cost our economy nearly a million jobs. But we know from history that they are wrong and sabotaging the ability of our nation to fully and equitably recover. The only thing we can’t afford is to underfund America’s recovery.” – Open Letter to Congress, signed by 200 former Obama Administration officials
More than 860,000 Americans filed for unemployment compensation this week. The official unemployment rate is 6.7 percent, and 9.2 percent among Black Americans. Factoring in the functionally unemployed – those who have stopped looking for work, who are working for poverty wages or who work only a handful of hours a week, the real unemployment rate is above 25 percent.
That’s tens of millions of Americans struggling to pay their bills, possibly facing eviction or foreclosure, or waiting hours online at food bank
“We’re seeing clients who are sleeping in their cars, arriving on-site at 2, 3 in the morning, sometimes even the night before,” Emily Slazer of New Orleans’ Second Harvest Food Bank told NPR. “It’s just a stunning and heartbreaking visual to see so many members of our community who are hungry.”
Hundreds of thousands of businesses have closed, with Black-owned businesses shutting down at twice the rate of white-owned establishments.
This is not a time to be timid. It’s not a time for half-measures. It’s time for transformative action that not only repairs the pandemic-inflicted devastation but also strengthens the economy to ward against future collapse.
President Biden’s American Rescue Plan would accomplish these goals.
Some of the provisions of the plan are:
* A federal minimum wage increase to $15 an hour;
* $1400 direct payments to individuals and families to offset financial hardships caused by the crisis;
* Support to state and local governments to keep frontline workers employed, distribute the vaccine, increase testing, and safely reopen schools;
* Expanded emergency paid leave and extended emergency unemployment benefits;
* Targeted paycheck protection program funding to support Black businesses and non-profits;
* Extension on the eviction and foreclosure moratorium, rental assistance, and aid for households unable to pay utilities;
* Homebuyer assistance/ rescue, housing counseling, fair housing enforcement services…and much more.
Key among these provisions is directly targeted aid to Black businesses, which largely missed out on Paycheck Protection Program funding last year. Only 2% of Black-owned businesses received loans as part of the CARES Act. The initial round of PPP funding focused on businesses that had large staffs or payroll budgets, but 99% of Black-owned businesses are run by sole entrepreneurs. Furthermore, Black-owned businesses entered the pandemic already thinly capitalized and facing a range of challenges. In fact, Black businesses seeking funding are three times as likely to get rejected than white business owners.
Most importantly, the American Rescue Plan will beat back the virus. It invests $20 billion in a national vaccination program in partnership with states, localities, tribes and territories. As President Biden said, “Here’s the deal: The more people we vaccinate, the faster we do it, the sooner we can save lives and put this pandemic behind us and get back to our lives and loved ones.”