For out-of-work Americans, the most important aspect of the $900 billion COVID-19-relief stimulus bill is extended unemployment benefits and $300 weekly for the jobless.
For business owners, the highlight is funding to stay open and pay employees.
For hospitals and health care workers and those needing COVID-19 tests or awaiting vaccination, the money dedicated to fighting COVID-19 itself is key.
To educators, it’s school funding getting top billing. And for the 85% of Americans receiving $600, the money means an easing of burdens or an economy-stimulating luxury.
But for the nation, the most uplifting aspect of this COVID-19 relief might simply be its passage, along with an omnibus spending bill. Both measures needed the support of a Democratic House, a Republican Senate and a Trumpian president, who’ve all been consumed with their political rivalries for eight months, to make a deal.
The break in that pattern was the break we all needed, and hopefully, a new start.
This bill is far from perfect, and more help is needed. Even as it brings $54 billion to New York, it lacks aid to state and local governments. That aid is necessary to keep police officers, firefighters, teachers, health care workers and other government employees toiling and spending, but the GOP foolishly conditioned granting that help on passing a COVID-19 liability waiver for businesses.
The governments need the money, and companies don’t need to be excused from liability if they are provably negligent.
The bill should have provided more money for the unemployed, and extended jobless benefits beyond March. The eviction moratorium should go beyond January. And the inclusion of full deductibility for business meals likely won’t boost restaurants, since few companies consider deductibility when deciding whether to pay for lunch.
But the $4 billion the deal provides for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the nearly $6 billion for New York’s public schools and universities, and billions more for rent relief, food stamps, health care and other needs are significant.
There was also a bonus in the bill: surprise medical bills, often generated when patients use services from providers outside their insurance network, through no fault of their own, will mostly end. Now when a patient goes out-of-network because of an emergency, or because a specialist at an in-network facility is out-of-network, or when an air ambulance is needed, the customer will pay only what is customary and reasonable.
President-elect Joe Biden faces a mountain of challenges. Even if Democrats were to win both Senate seats in Georgia next month, Democrats would still have only 50 seats in the chamber, constraining much of what they can do without some Republican support.
Facing a health crisis and economic carnage, this nation’s people and politicians must row in the same direction.
The difficult passage of this bill shows factions can come together to do the bare minimum. The end of surprise medical bills reminds us that when good will is applied to good policy, they can do even more. And gives us hope that in the new year, they will.
— The editorial board