Congress’ COVID relief is welcome, but “must simply be a downpayment, with more help on the way”

Late last night, after months of fruitless negotiations and inaction, Congress finally passed a $900-billion COVID relief package at the same time as a $1.4-trillion omnibus appropriations bill to fund the government through the end of the FY 21 fiscal year. Congress’ actions are a good start, but America needs more in order to survive and bounce back from this health and economic crisis. This bill must simply be a downpayment, with more help on the way.

The long-awaited COVID relief package was combined with the appropriations bill into a single package that will both provide emergency COVID stimulus funds, and money this 2021 budget year. There are many bright spots in the bill, including several that were advocated for by Smart Growth America and LOCUS. These include:

  • Making the 4 percent Low Income Housing Tax Credit permanent, which will make more affordable housing developments feasible in cities and towns across the country;
  • Providing $25 billion for rental assistance. This is a good start but it is not nearly enough to provide for the deep needs of renters;
  • Including additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program targeted to small businesses, and for Community Development Financial Institutions that provide financial services in low-income communities and to people who lack access to financing;
  • Including language that instructs DOT to issue new guidance on transit-oriented development loan programs within 60 days, where potentially transformative available federal capital for transit projects has been sitting idle for years now;
  • Providing $7 billion for broadband;
  • Expanding the eviction moratorium to Jan 2021. This extension is not nearly long enough, and should offer more funding to help landlords and tenants; 
  • Funding for housing and environmental programs for FY21 that was either at or slightly above FY20 funding levels. 

These provisions are clearly wins for communities and individuals across the county. But Congress and the incoming Biden administration simply must do more to meet the need of the current crisis. Many of the wins noted above could easily just become ineffective half measures if not followed up with additional actions and relief in the new year. Like with emergency relief for public transportation agencies, which received $14 billion in this package to stay afloat. (Read Transportation for America’s take on that point here.) That will be enough to see many of the hardest-hit agencies through the next month or two, but they will need far more to survive long enough to be ready and waiting to take Americans back to work as we recover from COVID.

Congress and the administration will need to come together in the new year to provide money for state and local funding issues, which were largely ignored in this package, and provide yet more relief for many of the programs noted above to fuel an equitable recovery.

Advocacy LOCUS Transportation