COVID-19 relief bill with $600 stimulus is like 'putting a small band-aid on a gaping wound,' expert says

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle ended their months-long gridlock over a new COVID-19 relief deal, ushering in another round of enhanced unemployment benefits and direct stimulus.

"Not to sound ungrateful, but it's a little too late for a lot of people who have already gone off the deep end. They're getting evicted, they cant pay their bills, they've maxed out their credit cards and that sort of thing. Too little, too late. But I am grateful for what is happening. At least something is happening. It's been very discouraging," said Starr Markham, who works in the theatre industry.

Markham is not anticipating returning until the fall, though she did work as a poll worker during the recent election. Currently, she's making less than $200 a week in unemployment payments.

"There's plenty more people like me that are in far worse shape than I am. And I'm grateful that I had a little bit of money saved up. I don't anymore. It's gone," said Markham.

The latest stimulus deal will provide $600 in direct stimulus to people making less than $75,000, as well as $300 in supplemental unemployment benefits for 11 weeks.



"In most dimensions it's both shorter and less generous than the previous agreement," said Dr. David Berger, an economics professor at Duke.

The original relief package provided $1,200 in direct stimulus using the same salary guidelines, and $600 in supplemental unemployment benefits for 16 weeks.

This agreement does extend the eviction moratorium through January 31, and set aside money for housing assistance.

"Since the pandemic has really drawn on, and we've gone into a third wave of the pandemic, more and more people are behind on their rent, there's been some more direct assistance for them," said Berger.

Still, he believes more aid will be required to address the reality of the economic situation for millions of Americans.

"The unemployment benefits end in March. So, I see almost no case where this is going to be sufficient. This is clearly a stopgap bill," said Berger.

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Dr. Henry McKoy, the director of entrepreneurship at North Carolina Central University, agreed that the bill won't address the months of rent and other payments many North Carolinians owe.

"There are so many people that are so far behind in their bills and payments, it would be just like putting a small band-aid on a gaping wound," added McKoy, who previously served as assistant secretary of commerce for Governor Beverly Perdue.



This deal also aimed to address equity concerns over PPP loans. An October report from the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis alleged limited access to the program.

"The report finds that contrary to Congress's clear intent, the Trump Administration and many big banks failed to prioritize small businesses in underserved markets, including minority and women-owned businesses. As a result, small businesses that were truly in need of financial support during the economic crisis often faced longer waits and more obstacles to receiving PPP funding than larger, wealthier companies," the report stated.

McKoy said the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many similar systemic inequities.

"2020 has been that year where we've seen all kinds of different things exposed. And what we've long known is that there's certain incredibly systematic disparities in terms of who gets resources and who doesn't. The first (round of) PPP kind of exacerbated that," said McKoy.

An August report from the US Chamber of Commerce and MetLife found that "minority-owned small business owners are more likely than non-minority owners to report difficulty obtaining loans, express fears about permanently closing, and predict declining revenues in the coming year."

The new relief agreement will provide $12 billion in funding for businesses in minority-owned and low-income communities, and $20 billion for grants to businesses in low-income communities.

"It's important that we have a diverse business ecosystem because that has impacts on everything from education to health, who gets employed, who gets resources. It's going to be critical to see how this second round of dollars have an impact on that population," said Dr. McKoy.
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