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By Collin Breaux
Following Congress’ passage of a $900 billion package intended to alleviate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and subsequent criticism of individual payments being only $600 under the legislation, several House Representatives from California discussed aspects of the bill during a press call hosted by the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee on Tuesday, Dec. 22.
The Democratic legislators on the call variously said the measures were too small but better than nothing, noting the stimulus package does have some beneficial provisions. They said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stalled the process, and are hopeful further relief legislation can be passed soon.
Rep. Mike Levin (CA-49), whose area includes North County in San Diego and South Orange County, said the public deserved help a long time ago.
“(McConnell) said the blue states should not be given a bailout—basically, let them go bankrupt,” Levin said. “And then, Steve Mnuchin, Treasury secretary, made offers and negotiated with Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi, but it was clear McConnell and the Republican Senate conference weren’t really interested in the real relief that meets the scale of the crisis that we’re facing.”
Levin said he is pleased with the compromise on the legislation, and while it doesn’t do enough, hopefully, it will help make the next few months better by helping people on the brink avoid poverty.
“I hope it will stem the tide for what could be, otherwise, a disaster—a deep recession,” Levin said. “There is desperately needed aid here that we passed yesterday to help unemployed individuals, low-income individuals, to keep our small businesses afloat, to bolster our public health response, our vaccine distribution, our education, and quite a bit more.”
Levin highlighted local provisions, including more than $100 million in new construction projects at Camp Pendleton; approximately $17 million for water recycling and desalination projects; and a variety of energy and environmental provisions, including his legislation to create a spent nuclear fuel research and development program at the Department of Energy and $27.5 million for nuclear waste disposal.
The representatives pointed to the $2.2 trillion HEROES Act—passed by the House earlier this year but not the Senate—as an ideal funding amount. New presidential leadership under Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and what happens with the Georgia Senate runoff races on Jan. 5, will factor into how soon a further relief package could be passed, the legislators said.
The current relief package does provide $81.88 billion for education, $54.3 billion of which will go to K-12 education, Committee Co-chair Rep. Ted Lieu (CA-33) said.
“That is four time more than $13.5 billion that the CARES Act had,” Lieu said. “It’s got $25 billion going to renters. It’s got a lot of money going to vaccine distribution and delivery. There’s a lot of good things in this bill, including over $280 billion in additional paycheck protection loans that are forgivable for small businesses. That’s why I voted yes on it, but to me, this is just a down payment.”
Rep. Scott Peters (CA-52) said there were bipartisan Senate negotiations that broke through gridlock, but aid was missing for state and local governments to help police, firefighters, and teachers facing tough times and potential layoffs.
“I am happy about the supplemental benefits,” Peters said. “Something like 52% of Americans live from paycheck to paycheck, and they go to bed every night worried about feeding their kids the next day and paying their bills at the end of the week. Three hundred bucks a week for 11 weeks is not enough, but it means a lot, and I think that’s great. I would prefer more money be put into that than indirect payments, but I think the direct payments will be useful as well.”
Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.