In this file photo from September 2017, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listen to questions from reporters during a news conference following their weekly policy luncheon in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
As COVID-19 deaths continue to rise, millions of Americans remain unemployed and a new eviction crisis looming, Congress has yet to reach an agreement on a new COVID-19 relief package that will help alleviate some of the pain that people across the country are feeling.
A group of bipartisan U.S. senators that includes Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy made another push Monday for a pair of bills that would further extend unemployment benefits, provide food assistance, rental assistance and relief for those struggling to pay student loans. The $908 billion plan would also provide $160 billion in aid to state and local governments if an agreement can be reached on COVID-19 liability protections for schools and businesses.
State and local budgets have taken big hits during the pandemic. The bill Cassidy champions would provide relief until April 1.
“COVID infections are rising. Small business owners and their employees are afraid of going bankrupt and losing their jobs. Families are wondering how to afford food and rent,” Cassidy said at the press conference. “This bill reflects weeks of good-faith negotiations from both Republicans and Democrats to find a solution that delivers relief to struggling Americans.”
Cassidy said he took the lead on the portion of the bill that would help states, parishes and municipalities. Louisiana has lost a greater share of its revenue than many other states during the COVID-19 pandemic. New Orleans, for example, has been hit especially hard during a year when all its major events — such as the French Quarter Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Essence Music Festival, VoodoFest and the Bayou Classic all had to be canceled.
However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, an opponent of providing money for ailing state and local governments, said Tuesday that help for those governments should be put off until Joe Biden is president.
“I’ve been saying for weeks and you’ve been listening to me say it for weeks,” McConnell said to reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday, “let’s put aside the things we can’t agree on and do the things we can.”
The Kentucky Republican also said, “We all know the new administration is going to be asking for yet another package. It’s not like we won’t have another opportunity to debate the merits of liability reform and state and local government in the very near future.”
Two-thirds of the $160 billion funding in the legislation Cassidy supports would be distributed to state and local governments based on the revenue they lost because of the pandemic. The other one-third would be distributed based on the state’s population, with each receiving a minimum $500 million.
“We feel this addresses the needs of states that have lost a lot, but it’s fair to states that perhaps haven’t lost a lot,” Cassidy said. “Nonetheless, we need funding to enable better distribution vaccines or for needs that are yet unrealized because of the continued COVID crisis.”
Many members of the bipartisan group expressed urgency in passing these bills before they returned home for the Christmas holidays. Lawmakers have until Dec. 18 to create a relief package before funding expires. Cassidy said, this is Congress’ last chance to pass a relief bill before Christmas.
McConnell said there will be a relief package and he said his colleagues need to “get it done, get it done now. And we’re not leaving. I assure you we’re not leaving until we finish this package.”
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