Georgians have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression. Infection numbers in Georgia continue to grow, and our hospitals are stretched to capacity. After declining each week since early May, Georgia is again seeing an increase in unemployment claims, as well as a decline in weekly benefits. All of this is occurring as our state faces a steep revenue shortfall spurred by layoffs, furloughs and a decrease in sales.
With hundreds of thousands of Georgians laid off or furloughed and increased COVID cases likely to slow down business re-openings, many are turning to our state and federal governments for food assistance and money to afford other basic needs. While federal COVID laws enacted so far have provided significant assistance to households in need, too many others—especially households with low incomes, Black and Brown Georgians and immigrants—may not have received sufficient support, if they received any at all. And provisions such as the $600 weekly federal unemployment insurance (UI) benefit, which has put money directly in the pocket of families struggling to find work, expired last week.
At the same time, Georgia lawmakers slashed our state’s budget, enacting deep cuts to health programs and child welfare and cutting our education funding formula by nearly $1 billion. Every Georgian across the state will feel the effects of these cuts. Students, small business owners, public servants, health care workers and more are all impacted. However, communities of color and rural Georgians will be harmed the most.
And now, legislation is moving that could end or reduce critical protections to help Georgia families weather COVID-19. Last week, lawmakers introduced the HEALS Act, which does not provide additional relief for states or local governments and keeps the federal matching rate for Medicaid status quo. The legislation reduces the crucial weekly federal UI benefit from $600 to $200, which would cause Georgians to lose out on over $3 billion in just two months. Although the HEALS Act includes an additional $1,200 stimulus check for families, it continues to exclude many immigrants from the rebate. This package will not provide Georgians with the support needed to recover.
There is a better option. In May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HEROES Act, a new federal relief package that includes necessary provisions to help Georgians recover and thrive. The HEROES Act would provide expanded federal unemployment benefits, a temporary increase in SNAP benefit amounts, an expansion of the earned income and child tax credits, support for public schools and more.
To ensure that the newest federal legislation adequately helps Georgians recover, it must support each of the critical public services—such as public education, mental health supports, public transit and public works programs—that we all rely on. And without more aid, states, cities and towns will continue cutting these and other services that Georgians need. That’s why states need at least $500 billion in federal aid, plus more federal funding for state Medicaid programs so states can avert cuts to vital services for seniors, families with children and people with disabilities.
Congress must act now to pass a comprehensive federal relief bill that addresses the needs of states and every person who calls Georgia home. Only then can those who have been hardest hit by this crisis can make ends meet until jobs return and the economy recovers.