Editorial: The COVID relief bill: Imperfect, but essential

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris
President Biden, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, speaks about efforts to combat COVID-19.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

In the eyes of its critics, President Biden’s $1.9-trillion COVID-19 relief bill is too big and too wasteful. They say that the flood of federal dollars will cause inflation to spike, discourage idled people from working and bail out overly generous public employee pension systems in states run by Democrats.

Some of the critiques are knee-jerk responses with little grounding in reality. Several of the state governments facing the biggest budget crunches are led by Republicans. And federal employment data don’t indicate that workers are malingering on the dole; instead, the country is still suffering from extensive job losses, particularly in service industries, with new claims for unemployment remaining far higher than they were pre-pandemic.

Nevertheless, it’s reasonable to wonder whether we still need such a big dose of fiscal medicine at this stage in the country’s battle with COVID-19. Infection rates have plummeted from the last surge’s peak, the pace of vaccinations is increasing and more businesses and classrooms are reopening. Economists say that once the pandemic is finally behind us, there will be an explosion of pent-up demand for travel, entertainment and many other services many Americans have denied themselves over the last year.


But while there’s light shining at the end of the tunnel, we don’t know how long it will take to reach it. That’s why it’s so important to renew the extended unemployment benefits that have kept millions of jobless Americans afloat, while also enabling them to pay their bills. They’re due to run out in mid-March, so lawmakers don’t have the luxury of time. This bill would do that.

The proposal’s new round of stimulus checks will help more people pay down the debts they’ve run up during the pandemic, while encouraging others to support the local businesses that have struggled under COVID-related restrictions. Its aid to state and local governments will help restore thousands of jobs and hours cut over the last year.

Much of the bill is devoted to accelerating the recovery from the pandemic, for example by improving vaccine distribution and funding the new equipment and staff schools need to reopen safely. Other portions aim to make health insurance more affordable to everyone not covered by an employer’s plan and help the low-income families hit hardest by the disease and the recession.

Yes, Washington has already borrowed a staggering amount of money to try to navigate us through the pandemic. And yes, there is a risk that the new bill will pump more money into the economy than it can use productively, spurring a temporary increase in inflation. But there’s a greater risk that the recession’s effects will linger for years, especially for low- and moderate-income Americans, if we take no action now. Let’s make one more push to get out of the pandemic and get back to work.