COVID chaos: U.S. government set to allow relief programs to expire when needed the most

The coronavirus pandemic is in the middle of a dramatic resurgence across the United States and experts fear the situation could become even worse in the coming weeks. But just when financial assistance is needed the most to allow people to stay safe at home instead of risking their lives and public health by going out to work, key government programs are set to expire in a matter of weeks.

Last Thursday was the first day in the United States with over 2,000 COVID-19 deaths since May. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation suggests this daily death toll could grow to 2,300 by the end of the year, and projects that over 470,000 deaths will be attributable to the virus by March, 2021. 

Hospitals such as IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indiana now operate with no available beds in the intensive care unit. When this happens, patients are left to languish and stack up in and around emergency rooms. 

Healthcare rights advocates have long pointed to a national shortage of qualified nurses as a time-bomb that would reveal itself in dramatic fashion during a crisis event. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, long work hours, unsafe conditions, absurd nurse-to-patient ratios and the burnout caused by these had already been showing a clear effect on health outcomes even before the multiplying factor of the virus is added to the equation. This is one of many clear examples of the failure of successive U.S. capitalist administrations to do anything on a national scale to plan for the health and safety of U.S. residents, even when the risks are obviously clear. 

Key relief programs set to expire

As many state and local governments fumble to re-impose a patchwork of often poorly-defined and inadequately-communicated lockdown measures, workers find themselves more and more restricted in their ability to earn an income to pay for the basic necessities of life. A study released earlier this week by The Century Foundation reported that 12 million people would see the end of federal and state benefits on December 26 and 27 absent government intervention. 

The tens of millions of workers newly unemployed in the United States who had been eligible for emergency Lost Wage Assistance benefits have watched that income decrease from $600 per week down to $300. Now they must grapple with the reality that there could soon be nothing. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the program for self-employed “gig economy” workers, will expire on December 31. 

The CDC order against evictions and the federal stay on student loan interest payments both expire on December 31. A brutal intensification of the crisis for workers and poor people lurks around the corner. The vast majority of aid money issued in the CARES Act earlier this year was gobbled up by rich corporations and individuals, leaving wage workers and small businesses with relative crumbs, if anything at all.

While the U.S. Congress has callously gone on vacation, the people are fighting back, participating in mutual aid networks to take care of high-risk population and raising popular demands that if achieved through struggle could really make a difference in the health and wellbeing for tens of millions: Cancelation of rents and student debt, Medicare for All, a guaranteed income at a dignified level, and more. 

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