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US bishops: ‘Imperative’ for Congress to act on COVID relief

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 8, 2020 / 12:30 pm MT (CNA).- As the Senate is expected to consider a pared-down coronavirus relief package this week, the U.S. bishops’ conference is calling for immediate and substantial aid.

The head of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice committee, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, called on Congress to pass a bill “that meets the urgent needs of the nation.”

“It is imperative to act soon,” Archbishop Coakley said in a statement Tuesday. “May God grant all those participating in negotiations a heart that eagerly responds to the cry of the poor.”

Congress has passed several relief packages during the coronavirus epidemic, providing loans to small businesses and nonprofits to keep employees on payroll and expanding unemployment benefits, among other actions.

Coakley, however, warned that those measures “are running out” as families are threatened by hunger, private schools are facing closure, virus cases are rising in prisons, and local governments are seeing funding shortfalls.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Tuesday that Republicans would bring up a “targeted” COVID relief bill, “focused on some of the very most urgent healthcare, education, and economic issues.”

In response, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the proposal “doesn’t come close to addressing the problems and is headed nowhere,” and “is laden with poison pills Republicans know Democrats would never support.”

In the spring, Congress had approved $3 trillion in relief for schools, churches, and businesses, and the House approved another $3 trillion in relief under the HEROES Act in May; that bill stalled in the Senate.

In a series of letters from April through August, the U.S. bishops’ conference has outlined policy priorities for COVID relief.

The bishops have asked that private schools receive 10% of the relief funding that public schools get in order to stay open, and that parents have tax incentives for education savings. For charities struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic, they asked that the new $300 charitable tax deduction be increased.

The bishops have warned of “racial inequalities” in health care access that have been exacerbated during the pandemic. They have also asked for an expansion of Medicaid and funding for community health centers, and that insurance coverage for abortions not be included in any relief policy.

In July, some conservative intellectuals advocated for the expansion of the Child Tax Credit and the Earned-Income Tax Credit as a means of helping families during the COVID-induced economic downturn.

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