The U.S. Senate has proposed a fourth round of legislation to stave off further economic damage from the novel coronavirus pandemic. But critics say the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act fails to provide the most basic of relief for Kentucky families experiencing heightened hunger, uncertainty and distress — at a time when COVID-19 cases are spiking.
Dan Wu owns the restaurant Atomic Ramen in Lexington. He said he's dismayed by lawmakers' holdout on continuing the additional $600 in federal unemployment insurance benefits that expired for Kentuckians on July 25, under the premise that the additional money disincentivizes people from working.
"Here's the reality of what we're facing right now, not just in the restaurant industry but in small businesses all over the country and in Kentucky," said Wu. "There isn't work to be had. Every restaurant owner I know is reopened in a skeleton-staff kind of way; they've hired a fraction of their staff back. There simply isn't the work to go back to."
The legislation would slash the boost in unemployment benefits for most Kentuckians to around $200 per week. If the additional federal benefits aren't extended, experts said $70 million per week would vanish from the state's economy.
With the economic downturn projected to worsen, Adrienne Bush, executive director of the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky, said advocates are calling for a twelve month moratorium on rental and mortgage evictions, and additional federal funding to protect property owners from loan default and shelter families who have lost their housing during the pandemic.
"The HEALS Act contains none of these specific provisions, all of which have been vetted and passed by the House of Representatives since May," said Bush. "The HEALS Act purports to support schools, health care and jobs, but students, health care workers and people in all areas of our hard-hit economy need to have a place to call home."
She said more than 200,000 Kentuckians currently are at risk of eviction, including 40% of renters in the state. Bush noted that among that group, 58% of Black renters in the Commonwealth say they are not confident they will be able to pay August rent.