CHN analysis: The CARES Act – Necessary but Not Sufficient to Prevent a Depression


March 27, 2020

Now that both the House and Senate have passed the CARES Act – the third round of legislation in response to the nation’s health and economic crisis – it is time to begin focusing on the things that were not included and what Congress can – and must – do in the future.

“The CARES Act takes some important steps towards responding to the combined health and economic crisis, and the Coalition on Human Needs supports it,” said CHN Executive Director Deborah Weinstein. “But it does not do enough, and Congress will have to return to ensure that the people most in need – and whose aid will do the most to spur recovery – get adequate help.”

In a detailed analysis available here, Weinstein examined critical components of the legislation, including a number of areas where additional help will be needed. Examples:

Joblessness.  In a positive move, the CARES Act expands unemployment compensation. It provides four months of $600 per week in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which would be added to a state’s regular unemployment insurance. Importantly, the bill includes benefits for part-time, self-employed, or gig economy workers.

Cash. The bill provides one-time “Recovery Rebates” or $1,200 per adult and $500 per child for people who qualify. But not everyone who needs it will get help – Congress tied the rebate income to 2019 (or 2018) tax returns. About 30 million people who did not have to file tax returns, including some Social Security, Supplemental Security income, or other low-income program beneficiaries, will have to file in order to receive the aid, and many may not know to do so. And others were left out altogether – including many immigrant workers.

Nutrition aid. Advocates had called for a 15 percent increase in SNAP, and although the increase was included in a House alternative, it was not included in the final legislation.

Paid Leave. The CARES Act excludes too many people from paid leave, including, for example, people who must stay at home from work to care for family members with disabilities. This means more people will lose their jobs – exactly wrong for today’s economy.

Health care. The legislation provides about $150 billion to help hospitals and other health care providers and researchers respond to the crisis, but it does not expand free COVID-19 treatment to everyone. We cannot stop the spread of this disease if people cannot receive treatment.

Housing. The legislation provides needed funds to fight homelessness, and to help out with rental assistance and heating and cooling bills. But more funds are needed to prevent an anticipated surge in homelessness. And while Congress did act to prevent some evictions and foreclosures from occurring, it did not do enough.

Child care and other children’s services. The CARES Act provides $3.5 billion in new child care funds and $750 million for Head Start. Considerably more will be needed.

“The situation we are in is very grave,” Weinstein concluded. “Congress has taken important steps, but this is only the beginning, sadly. “We are all in this together – maybe socially distant, but morally and economically connected. If we cast aside any of us – whether incarcerated, homeless, immigrant, poor – it will hurt all of us. Congress may have dispersed, like all of us, but we still must work together to get out of this.”