Errol Louis is the host of “Inside City Hall,” a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.

(CNN)The Trump administration will officially expire when the clock strikes noon on January 20. But weeks before that, millions of Americans will face a humanitarian catastrophe that rivals any earthquake, hurricane, flood or forest fire — unless Congress quits dithering and approves a relief bill. There has been news that Democrats and Republicans have decided to resume talks after stalled negotiations. More than ever, many Americans are in desperate need for those talks to lead to meaningful action.

Even as the stock market edges toward new highs, we still have 10 million fewer people working than in February, when the virus hit America. In every corner of the country, mandatory shutdowns, limits on capacity and social distancing measures caused by the coronavirus pandemic have forced the closure of businesses and triggered high unemployment and mass hunger.In Massachusetts, authorities estimate that 1 million people are going hungry. Texas saw thousands of cars recently lined up for meals at a Dallas-area food pantry. New York City’s network of public and private food pantries are giving out more than 1 million free meals per day. On stimulus, Trump is toying callously with American lives, including mineOn stimulus, Trump is toying callously with American lives, including mineOn stimulus, Trump is toying callously with American lives, including mineNationwide, an estimated 22.5% of all households were food insecure each week during the spring and early summer, according to a study from the Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research. And that’s not the economic emergency threatening working families. Millions have been surviving on social safety-net benefits that are set to expire between now and the end of the year. Read MoreAn estimated 9.4 million gig workers — people who work temporary jobs and aren’t eligible for regular unemployment insurance programs — have been surviving on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. The funding runs out in late December.Another 4.1 million jobless Americans are getting Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which adds a 13-week extension to whatever state unemployment benefits they might be receiving. Different states offer different benefits, but few run longer than 26 weeks, so even with a 13-week extension, many will be left without much-needed payments.These severe money troubles never stay confined to households. Many people have been unable to pay their rent, a fact temporarily disguised by a national moratorium on evictions ordered by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the moratorium, which doesn’t address the back payment that renters will be responsible for, will be over at the end of December, at which point as many as 40 million families could face eviction proceedings. Democrats and Republicans, stop fighting and get something doneDemocrats and Republicans, stop fighting and get something doneDemocrats and Republicans, stop fighting and get something doneA similar mortgage forbearance order has allowed as many as 2.7 million homeowners a temporary break on mortgage payments they can’t make for up to a year. That program, too, is set to terminate on December 31. And like the moratorium for renters, homeowners will have to figure out how to pay off the mortgage payments they’ve skipped. Student loan debt has added even more difficulties to many American families. Congress approved relief that suspended payments and the accumulation of interest on student loans, and stopped the collection of defaulted debts. It’s another form of relief due to expire at the end of the year — at which point as much as $7 billion a month in payments will be due.Any way you look at it, American households will be expected to produce billions of dollars in just a few weeks — and with Covid-19 cases rising to record high levels, it’s unrealistic to expect the money will be available. A wave of evictions and loan defaults could throttle the nation’s economic recovery before it even gets started. Providing immediate relief is essential and not optional — and it’s not the job of the incoming Biden administration, which won’t be sworn in until well into January. It’s Congress that has the power of the purse, and Congress alone that can appropriate the trillions of dollars needed to tide American families over when benefits expire on New Year’s Day. Democratic legislative leaders — Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — have been calling on the Republicans who control the Senate to hammer out a relief bill. Before Thursday, they haven’t met with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell since Election Day to discuss a Covid-19 relief bill. President Donald Trump, who could convene the parties and help negotiate a deal, has made few public appearances and said almost nothing about the looming crisis. Get our free weekly newsletter

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While Pelosi and Schumer have been criticized for not wanting to compromise on a relief bill leading up to the 2020 presidential election, there’s an air of unreality about the indifference being displayed by Trump and McConnell as tens of millions of Americans teeter on the verge of bankruptcy, eviction or outright starvation. Pelosi and Schumer have both claimed that the GOP has been pushing a bill that doesn’t adequately address the needs of millions of Americans. Looking at the toll that this pandemic has already taken on many Americans and what is to come as cases increase throughout the country, struggling Americans do indeed need a plan that is more robust than what Senate Republicans have offered. If a flood or hurricane caused the damage, even the most hard-hearted politicians would feel compelled to act. But the looming, virus-driven catastrophe is creeping up silently. It will strike not with the roar of a hurricane but the quiet delivery of an eviction notice or student loan bill. Members of Congress, who swore an oath to serve the public, must take immediate action before the disaster strikes. There’s no time to lose.

Source Link:
https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/19/opinions/covid-relief-congress-must-act-now-louis/index.html

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