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Opinion: Congress Should Do Their Job So Millions of Americans Can Do Theirs

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) during the Senate's Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs hearing examining the quarterly CARES Act report to Congress on September 24, 2020 in Washington, DC.
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Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) during the Senate's Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs hearing examining the quarterly CARES Act report to Congress on September 24, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Congress used to like to pass spending bills before an election. Representatives could return home to campaign and say, "Look what we did for you!"

But with 13.6 million people out of work, Congress may not pass a new coronavirus relief bill. Both parties may feel, in today's fractious politics, they can fire up their supporters best if they don't compromise, and blame the other party.

Congress passed the $2 trillion-dollar CARES Act in late March. It included unemployment benefits, direct payments, small business loans, and support for health care, education, airlines, and corporations.

Loretta and Sam Adderson didn't get a dime. As much as $23.5 billion dollars was targeted for farmers, and the Addersons grow kale, spinach, and collard greens in Burke County, Georgia.

But most of the markets where they sold their produce have shut down, or gone into limited operation. Loretta and Sam Adderson are in their mid-seventies, and may now lose the farm they have nourished with their toil and dreams.

A poll published by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says at least half the people in America's four largest cities say they've lost their job, suffered a pay cut, and used up their life's savings. Most are Black or Latino families.

77% of Latino households in Houston and 81% of Black households say they have serious financial problems, as do 73% of Latinos in New York, 71% in Los Angeles, and 63% in Chicago, where 69% of black households say they have serious financial problems.

Robert J. Blendon at Harvard says, "We had a $2 trillion relief bill to lift people up and put a pillow under them. But it is not helping nearly as many people as we had expected."

There are still long food lines in cities and towns, shuttered businesses, lost farms, and growing homelessness. The CDC says more Americans have mental health problems, use more drugs and alcohol, and report more thoughts of suicide.

Republicans say the country can't afford the more than $2 trillion Democrats want for a new relief bill. Democrats say the $1 trillion proposed by Republicans is too little to be useful. That difference of a trillion dollars may add up to a grand total of nothing for the American people.

At a time when so many Americans are out of work, how are members of Congress performing the jobs they've been elected to do?

And if you struggle with thoughts of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text HOME to 741741.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.