Living in a world in which politicians are allowed to exist means endlessly bearing witness to the same stupefying injustices playing out over and over again. Weee! It’s always hellish, but there’s been something particularly anesthetizing about the repetitions we’ve witnessed during the course of the COVID pandemic. To be honest, the whole thing can really make a girl feel like she’s living in a sad, deeply boring, and nightmarish video game she didn’t want to play in the first place.
Which never-ending loop are we stuck in this time? Ah yes, the one with the stimulus checks. Specifically, a fourth stimulus check, which is maybe, kind of, sort of on the table for the millions of Americans who are still unemployed and/or deep in debt after a devastating 15 months. The concept makes sense, as it always has, and yet, while 80 Democratic members of Congress have signed letters asking President Joe Biden to give the go-ahead and seven members of the House Ways and Means Committee wrote a letter to do the same, the relief money is still in limbo.
But of course it is. The last year has taught us well that the very straightforward, necessary solution of giving people money to stay inside and safe, and continue to simply live as the world was turned upside-down, was a difficult one for Congress to make—even after it was met with approval, thanks, and evidence that it was indeed an effective bandage. And so here we are again talking about the congressional negotiations, inaction, needless suffering, nickel and diming, hedging, political bickering and floundering, pure nonsense, and plain old general ineptitude of our representatives to aid a suffering electorate by simply giving us the goddamn money.
Where does Biden stand in all this? At a conference last Thursday, press secretary Jen Psaki said that he is, “happy to hear from a range of ideas on what would be most effective and what’s most important to the economy moving forward.” I would say that’s an incredible nothing sentence except that it’s actually full of meaning, insomuch as Psaki went on to mention the president’s American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan, which, while providing other kinds of valuable long term aid, don’t include immediate relief in the form of stimulus checks.
It’s been three months since the last stimulus check—the third in a line of painstakingly considered, incredibly late aid packages—and despite the encouraging case numbers and an increasing sense of normalcy among the roughly 140 million Americans who are now fully vaccinated, it bears repeating that the pandemic isn’t over. Things are reopening, the economy has started to bounce back, but it’s only just the beginning. People are still out of work. Those who have jobs are making far too little. People have months of rent to pay back and are still struggling to cover basic expenses. People have lost their emergency savings. It will take years to begin to recover.
Meanwhile, have you heard that the rich are positively thriving? The billionaires (did you know there are over 600 of them in this country??????)—who could in fact subsidize COVID aid without breaking a sweat—are robbing us blind and perpetuating trauma for their employees during a global pandemic, among their other ongoing monstrosities. You can understand why 2.6 million people have signed six different petitions on Change.org for monthly stimulus checks.
This isn’t an ideological, theoretical struggle. It’s not just that people like extra cash. The cold hard numbers on what aid money does for people are actually quite astounding.
There’s just no disputing the fact that handing people money was a stunning success—all the proof we needed that a universal basic income should be a part of any ongoing welfare system. But despite that, the Biden administration and Congress are dawdling. What’s more, they are also standing by as the other great success of the pandemic—expanded unemployment benefits—is dismantled. To see Democrats look at the overwhelming evidence that just giving people money works and is popular, and to then see them shrug their shoulders and move on, is both infuriating and totally predictable.
While we wait to find out if Congress is interested in keeping people fed, out of poverty, and mentally healthy, residents have been handling it themselves, as they’ve done throughout the pandemic. Activists in Virginia, for example, are providing actual micro grants to people in need as they wait for the Virginia Employment Commission to fix over 92,000 unprocessed claims. It’s just the latest example of communities coalescing in response to the coronavirus to do with the government cannot seem to do. It’s almost as if there’s a vested interest in keeping people poor and downtrodden, and maintain the status quo.
As many people are still waiting on the money that they should have received back in March as part of the third round of stimulus checks, the talk of a fourth or fifth round feels more and more like a fantasy. It should be easy, but it isn’t. There’s some momentum, but it will peter out. It’s all totally possible, but also totally unlikely to happen soon if at all. Republicans won’t back it. Biden isn’t all that interested.
Perhaps the worst thing about all this is that another stimulus installment, if it were to happen, would still feel like the bare minimum. As it’s looking now, we won’t even get that. I don’t know how many more editions of JUST GIVE US THE MONEY we’ll have left, but my guess is at least a few. We’ll be here shouting it from the rooftops as we continue to wait to find out what meager help we might get to survive and stay safe. We’ll be here as long as the government keeps asking us to beg for scraps and be grateful when they occasionally deliver.