Congress acted decisively this spring to provide economic support to American families as the economy headed toward its highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression by passing enhanced unemployment benefits, direct payments, the Paycheck Protection Program and other measures. Research has found that this swift action likely prevented a much worse recession and a significant increase in poverty.
Many of these policies, like the $600 in additional weekly unemployment benefits, were temporary. However, the health crisis, which caused the economic catastrophe those measures were designed to address, has significantly worsened. In recent weeks, there has been a weekly average of more than four times as many new confirmed cases per day as when the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) passed in March.
One critical but temporary policy was the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program, which helps low-income families with children replace the meals they received from federally funded school meal programs before the coronavirus forced their schools to close. P-EBT was created as part of the Families First package in early March and an extension was included in the House HEROES Act passed in May. However, it was not included in the recent Senate Republican HEALS proposal. Instead of any provisions to address hunger among low-income children and families, the HEALS proposal included an increase in the deduction for business meals that has been widely criticized and derisively called the “three-martini lunch deduction.”
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