Stimulus deal stalls for 5 months, Senate to confirm SCOTUS pick fast

  • Congress has not reached a new stimulus deal in over 5 months.
  • Meanwhile the Republican-led Senate is moving swiftly to begin the Supreme Court approval process for President Donald Trump’s nominee Amy Coney Barrett. 
  • The agenda comes at the same time that tens of millions of Americans continue to suffer financial pain caused the pandemic and are in need of additional federal support. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Like tens of millions of Americans, Rachel Murphy is still enduring financial pain from the pandemic six months in, and feels abandoned by elected leaders who have failed to provide additional relief.  

“It’s almost like a slap in the face that they aren’t caring about however many are unemployed right now,” said the 28-year-old Massachusetts resident, who has been job hunting since the two restaurants she worked at shut down in March. 

Congress hasn’t reached a new COVID-19 stimulus deal in over 5 months — and most of the benefits in the combined legislation worth $3 trillion enacted over the spring have dried up.

Murphy’s been pinching away at her savings to make ends meet after the extra $600 weekly federal unemployment income she’d been receiving expired at the end of July. 

“Ideally I’d like the stipend to come back because who knows how long I’m going to be unemployed,” Murphy told Insider. “It’s been very hard — emotionally taxing — not having the ability to do what I really want to do and not making money.”

Rachel Murphy_unemployment

Rachel Murphy, 28, working on St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, 2019, at The Field Pub in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Courtesy of Rachel Murphy

Jobless figures have continued to balloon due to the public health crisis, though the country has overcome historic highs in April. Latest data released Thursday from the Department of Labor shows more than 800,000 initial unemployment claims were filed last week. In a nutshell, about twice as many people are out of a job now than before the pandemic, roughly 12 million people.

Top economist Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell warned this week that “there is still a long way to go” to recovery, which could dramatically slow without adequate government aid. 

But dealmaking between top Democrats and Republicans has waned for months, making more support for struggling Americans an unlikely reality any time soon. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin remain in talks though it’s unclear whether a comprehensive deal will be reached until after Election Day, as President Donald Trump flip-flops on ending negotiations. 

Trump has instead directed the GOP-led Senate to stay laser-focused on filling the vacant seat on the Supreme Court left by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg three weeks ago. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged to swiftly approve Trump’s nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, to the bench.

The agenda shift displays a stark disconnect to the majority of Americans’ thinking on how the issues should be prioritized. Polling shows that most Americans back increased federal spending to combat the recession. Meanwhile, more than half say Barrett’s nomination should be postponed until after the election that’s 26 days away, according to multiple recent surveys. One poll indicates that 74% of registered voters said the Senate should first pass a new stimulus bill versus confirm Barrett.

The Field Pub _Massachusetts

The Field Pub, where Murphy worked in Cambridge, Massachusetts, permanently closed in July.

Courtesy of Rachel Murphy

‘A country that’s completely in crisis’

That leaders are willing to storm ahead on a Supreme Court nominee vote but can’t reach an agreement on coronavirus relief is “not surprising in the least,” according to Carmine Di Maro, who has also been forced out of work due to the pandemic.

“We have a country that’s completely in crisis,” he said. “It’s not a problem that’s impacting the people making those decisions at all.” 

After the 26-year-old lost his income from multiple freelancing production gigs in Los Angeles, he had binge-searched for cheaper places to live in the city, moving four different times over the past six months. He called the lone $1,200 federal direct payment sent earlier this year “super helpful” but hopes more will come in the near future.

“My goal is to be able to afford my own rent right now. That’s just something I can’t do,” Di Maro, now at his friend’s home in Detroit, told Insider. “If there’s not another stimulus package passed, it’s super difficult to imagine.” 

Roughly 30 to 40 million tenants face eviction come Dec. 31, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s moratorium expires. House Democrats last week passed a revised $2.2 trillion bill that would extend the ban for 12 months, though Republicans and the White House have staunchly opposed the legislation.

Also in the House bill is a 15% boost to food stamp benefits, which would provide an additional $25 dollars to each recipient. Research shows that 23% of American households have experienced food insecurity since the coronavirus outbreak began. However, Senate Republicans have rejected the measure and did not include a similar provision in their bill that failed to advance last month.

“If the federal government pulls back in its support, that will have significant pressure on food banks collectively around the country as we move into the fall and winter,” Radha Muthiah, president and CEO of Capital Area Food Bank, which serves the District of Columbia, Maryland and Northern Virginia area, told Insider.

The food bank has been dealing with an exponential surge in demand over the past six months that hasn’t stopped. For September, Muthiah said they provided 75% more food compared to the same month in 2019.

“I think it’s important for the benefits that were provided in the last couple of stimulus packages to continue until the economy is truly back to either normal or close to normal,” Muthiah said. “At this stage as we speak in October, we’re not back to normal yet. People are still struggling and they will still need to get the support that they were receiving from the federal government for some time to come.”

Republican lawmakers have largely ignored repeated calls for relief but are closely adhering to their fast-tracked schedule for a Supreme Court justice approval process. They plan to start confirmation hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, despite the coronavirus infecting two of its members, Sens. Mike Lee and Thom Tillis, after they attended Barrett’s nomination event at the White House on Sept. 29.

Judiciary Chairman Sen. Lindsay Graham has signaled expectations to approve Barrett out of committee on Oct. 22. McConnell has hinted that he will hold a floor vote as soon as possible afterward, meaning that Barrett can be appointed to the nation’s highest court following a two-week confirmation period. 

“It’s crazy that they’re rushing to do this before the election,” Murphy said. “They haven’t taken care of their people and that’s the most frustrating part.”

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