Personal Finance

Congress fails to reach stimulus deal, leaving tens of millions of Americans desperate for relief

Key Points
  • Even as one of the worst financial downturns in U.S. history rages on, Congress has failed to reach a deal on a relief package.
  • The delay in additional unemployment benefits, stimulus checks and eviction protections could have lasting impacts on tens of millions of Americans who without aid can't cover their rent or food bills.

Shenerah Nelson used to pay her rent with the money she made driving for Uber and Lyft, but when the pandemic struck, her rides dried up. The single mother of two scrambled to land another job.

The positions she found were low-paying or part time, but she was desperate, and so she started working at a call center, earning $11 an hour.

"I'm not happy with the job," Nelson, 30, said. "But I have kids that depend on me."

Her income dropped in half from before the public health crisis. "It's made it difficult because I still have the same expenses," Nelson said. 

The expanded federal unemployment benefit Congress passed in March helped her stay afloat, but those checks stopped coming last month. She's fallen behind on her $1,200 rent in Miami.

"They told me I'm on the list for eviction," Nelson said. "It's very stressful. I feel so overwhelmed." 

Even as one of the worst financial downturns in U.S. history rages on, Congress has failed to reach a deal on a relief package. The delay in additional unemployment benefits, stimulus checks and eviction protections could have lasting impacts on tens of millions of Americans who without aid can't cover their rent or food bills. 

Some 40 million Americans could be evicted during the public health crisis. Nearly 60% of renters are at risk of eviction in West Virginia and Tennessee. Around 26 million adults said in July that their families were struggling to pay for enough food during the pandemic. 

"If the crisis goes on long enough, and the unemployed don't get relief, the recession will deepen and ultimately turn into a true depression," said Douglas Massey, a professor at Princeton University.

Earlier in the month, President Donald Trump took executive action to pass a patchwork of aid that experts say will deliver little meaningful relief to struggling AmericansThe Senate wrapped up its session on Thursday without a deal, meaning an aid package may not get passed until after Labor Day.

"If the lapse lasts into September, I would expect to see defaults, business closures and perhaps personal bankruptcies start to pick up," said Eric Zwick, a professor at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Most of the relief measures in the CARES Act, the first sweeping stimulus package Congress passed in March, have evaporated. Its federal moratorium on evictions, which covered around a third of rental units, expired in July. Meanwhile, most of the states that had their own bans on evictions have let the proceedings continue by now. 

"The 30-40 million renters who can't pay rent across the country are in peril," said Emily Benfer, an eviction expert and visiting professor of law at Wake Forest University.

"Until Congress takes control, the eviction crisis will continue to drive renters off the cliff and negatively affect housing markets, schools, employment rates, and health care, as well as delay pandemic recovery."

Ronda Farve fell behind on her rent after she was laid off from her job as a chef at a restaurant in New Orleans in March. Her landlord is trying to evict the single mother and her two children.

Farve said she feels like she's being punished for something out of her control. "If I have it, I'm going to pay it," Farve, 29, said. "This is the roof over my children's head."

"I don't know if I'm even going to have the money to move," she said. "It's terrifying. You're just waiting for hope to come knock on the door." 

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At the end of last month, around 30 million Americans stopped receiving the weekly $600 federal unemployment boost, even as jobless rates remain as historic highs. 

That's left Philip Tuley, who was laid off from his job as an assistant teacher in California in March, with only his state unemployment check of $65 a week. In some states, the minimum weekly benefit is as little as $5 or $15. 

Tuley said he was frequently checking for updates on news of another stimulus package. "They're playing with people's lives," Tuley, 63, said. "We're into the last bit of our savings. I've cut our food budget as far as I can." 

Will Vinci and his wife in happier times.
Will Vinci

William Vinci, who was laid off in March from his job as a supervisor at a resort in Vermont, said the extra $600 a week saved him and his wife from "financial ruin." 

"Without that extra money, it's right down to the penny," Vinci, 66, said. 

He applies to jobs every day, to no avail. "No one is getting back to me," he said. 

He said he was in disbelief that Democrats and Republicans were unable to reach a deal during such a desperate time. 

"Everyone is really upset by the way our country is behaving in terms of government," he said. "They're appalled."

VIDEO3:0903:09
Here's where coronavirus stimulus talks stand after Congress goes in recess until September