In the spring, Congress was quick to approve an economic stimulus bill that would give all Americans $1,200 each, depending on their income, and made billions of dollars available to help businesses survive.

Now nine months later, long after the initial stimulus checks were spent and as the economic situation has become more dire, Congress has approved another bill, offering less assistance than the original bill.

Days after the president finally signed the bill, congress still can’t agree if the payment to residents should be the approved $600 or increased to $2,000 as the president suggested and as the Democrats have wanted all along.

All of the hand wringing and political fighting is not helping the millions of Americans who are desperately looking for ways to feed and house their families. Many have never been in this situation and are learning how to maneuver the many programs in place to help, but they are also dependent on any help they can get from the government.

Many say the $600 stimulus payment is enough to help those struggling, but many more are realistic and know it is not enough to pay a month’s rent for most families.

The months congress spent haggling over the amount of the stimulus package, while the million of Americans were going without and businesses suffered, was irresponsible.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect many people who have never had to look for assistance before.

The Crossroads is not immune to the problems.

Bars and some restaurants were forced to close Thursday as the COVID-19 hospitalization rate for the region remained above the state set 15 % for the seventh consecutive day. The businesses will be allowed to reopen or increase capacity after the rate is below the 15% for seven consecutive days. With the increasing number of diagnoses, it is unclear how soon that will be.

The Food Bank of the Golden Crescent has increased its distribution to the 11 counties it serves by 64 % since March. In all of 2019, it distributed 5.6 million pounds of food, while in the first 11 months of 2020, it distributed 7.2 million pounds.

At most of the food distributions coordinated by the food bank, churches and nonprofits, many people waited in line to get food for hours before the distribution was scheduled to begin. They were that desperate to get food for their families.

As the pandemic lingers, the lines are getting longer.

Christ’s Kitchen, the soup kitchen in Victoria, went from serving 250-300 meals a day before the pandemic to more than 700 a day now.

The region’s number of unemployed is still about three times the level it was a year ago. In November, 4,048 regional residents were unemployed, compared to 1,640 the same time in 2019, according to the Workforce Solutions of the Golden Crescent.

As the pandemic rages on and businesses have to scale back the number of people they can serve or have to close all together, the country’s economic situation is not going to improve.

Congress needs to make sure the stimulus money approved in the last bill is made available immediately to residents and businesses.

At the same time, it needs to put politics aside and begin working on the next assistance package that will realistically help Americans.

As it was said many times in the past year, we are truly living in unprecedented times with the pandemic. With the economic situation as dire as it is now, if there was ever a time to give meaningful government benefits it would be now.

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This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate’s editorial board.

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