The chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development has praised congressional efforts to offset the economic implications of the coronavirus pandemic.
Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City issued a statement in response to the passage Friday of the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), which provides more than $2 trillion in economic stimulus and relief.
“We are in a time of twin crises and united purpose: during the worst global public health crisis in our lifetimes, we are also experiencing what may be the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” Coakley said in a statement released March 28.
“Yet, around the world, we are united in common purpose of caring for the sick, pursuing a cure, and lifting the human spirit.”
Coakley highlighted the essential service of people working to keep society safe, healthy, and functioning during the pandemic, singling out supermarket workers and healthcare professionals for special praise, calling them “tireless and inspiring.”
The archbishop also noted the “long hours and late nights” Congress required to reach bipartisan agreement on the CARES stimulus package. At several points, congressional leadership were lock in debate about the act’s provisions, especially $500 billion made available to the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to ensure corporate liquidity, and Democrat demands that abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood be eligible for small business relief.
The CARES Act was passed by voice vote in the House of Representatives on Friday and signed into law by President Donald Trump later that day. It had previously passed the Senate on March 25 by a margin of 96-0.
The act authorizes direct checks to individual Americans of amounts up to $1,200 and an additional $500 per child, for individuals making up to $75,000 per year, heads of household making up to $112,500, or married couples filing jointly making up to $150,000 per year.
Payments would be tapered gradually above those thresholds, and phased out completely for individuals making more than $99,000 or joint filers making more than $198,000 a year.
The legislation also allocates around $250 billion to temporarily expand unemployment insurance, and provide grants and loans to small businesses and non-profits. It creates a new unemployment assistance program for contractors and “gig” workers normally not eligible for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, and adds an additional $600 per week in benefits for those already receiving state UI, or those part the new pandemic UI program.
Coakley noted that while “nothing is perfect,” “given the extraordinary needs of the moment, this $2.2 trillion package is the most expensive single piece of legislation in American history.”
“We are grateful for many provisions that will help the poor and vulnerable, including several provisions that will help employers retain their workers, and provisions that will help the many people who unfortunately have been laid off and will need immediate income when present circumstances make getting a new job much more difficult,” he said Saturday.
“It is good that there will be direct financial assistance to low- and middle-income Americans, and that there will be an infusion of financial resources for hospitals and charitable institutions which will be asked to do more than ever during this crisis.”
But, Coakley said, “there are some areas where aid and relief can improve.”
“We will continue to advocate for those most in need, for food security, for the homeless, for prisoners, for the sick who have large medical bills, for all Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, and for those who have lost friends and loved ones.”
The archbishop particularly expressed his “disappointment” that some aid and relief measures were not extended to undocumented migrants living in the United States, and said that it is “extremely concerning that testing and access to health care coverage was denied to certain immigrants.”
“The health and wellbeing of all in this crisis is threatened if anyone is categorically excluded from getting help,” said Coakley.
Referring to Pope Francis’s homily and Apostolic Benediction, delivered to an empty St. Peter’s square on Friday, Coakley noted the pope’s chosen gospel of the disciples witnessing Christ calm the storm.
“Now is a time of great anxiety and distress. We are less in control than we thought. This Lent is a time to return ever more to our faith, to trust in the Lord even in the midst of all this trouble. As Pope Francis said, the Lord ‘will not leave us at the mercy of the storm.’”