Patrick Sharkey was furloughed in May, but he was able to find a new job, as a customer success manager for a small software company in Minneapolis, a few months later.
Even still, COVID-19 has radically changed his life. For him and his partner, spending has been reduced to a minimum. They recently put their mortgage into forbearance for three months, delaying payment while they “pinched pennies” together to make things work.
So on Tuesday, when President Donald Trump announced an end to stimulus talks until after the election, saying there would be no further pandemic assistance, and more specifically, no further $1,200 stimulus check, Sharkey said he broke down.
“Finding that relief isn’t coming until at least January, I walked into my office, shut my door and cried,” he said.
Sharkey, of course, is not the only one struggling. The news of no new stimulus package is bound to impact millions of people that are out of job and a substantial number of businesses, particularly food service businesses, that are facing closure. In Minnesota, since March, almost 1,000,000 people have applied for unemployment benefits.
Republicans and Democrats have spent weeks in negotiations, disagreeing on key provisions in a potential stimulus package: President Trump refused to accept financial aid to cities and states projecting a budget deficit (like Minnesota) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to pass a bill without it. In late September there seemed to be progress: Trump’s lead negotiator, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, said there would be a $1,200 check included in any stimulus package.
But on Tuesday, Trump abruptly ended negotiations, then hours later, confusingly said Democrats needed to pass a stand-alone bill with a $1,200 check. To clarify, on Wednesday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said “The stimulus negotiations are off.” Even more confusingly, Trump retweeted a news article from CNBC, where Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said we need aggressive stimulus aid now, adding: “True!”
Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips, who represents Minnesota’s Third District, worked on a compromise bill with his bipartisan group, the Problem Solvers Caucus. That bill is not up for debate in either chamber, but Phillips said the president backing off from negotiations is inexcusable.
“I implore the President and leaders in both parties to return to the table immediately and come to terms on a relief package for America now,” he said on Twitter. “Not after the election and not in the new year. The suffering is too great, the urgency is too real, and inaction is not an option.” Eighth District Republican Rep. Pete Stauber is also a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, but made no statements in response to the president ending negotiations. Minnesota’s other two Republican members of Congress, First District Rep. Jim Hagedorn and Sixth District Rep. Tom Emmer were also silent.
Rep. Angie Craig, a Democrat who represents Minnesota’s Second District, said she has no idea how any of her colleagues look their constituents in the eyes when going around their district. “Our families are suffering. Our small businesses are suffering. They can’t afford any more delays,” she said, saying that as far as many members of Congress were aware, negotiations were still ongoing until yesterday. “I’m really shocked that the administration has walked away from negotiations,” she said.
Craig said that Democrats passed an updated stimulus package, the HEROES Act, originally in May and again in September.
“Now both of those bills are gathering dust on Mitch McConnell’s desk,” she said. “And, you know, the money for states seems to be one of the stumbling blocks to negotiation. But this is so we don’t have to continue laying off teachers or firefighters or healthcare workers.”
Craig said that she knows people in her district need the money, too. On Tuesday afternoon, she spoke with a furloughed teacher with a twelve year old daughter and an infant son who recently died. “‘Congresswoman,’” Craig says the teacher told her, “‘I’ve got bills due five days ago. And you know, the unemployment insurance is not going to me to pay my bills.’”
For Sam Schaust, a Masters student at the University of Minnesota working full-time, a stimulus package is the difference between covering the rest of fall tuition or taking out another loan. He said he may even have to sell some of his favorite belongings to pay tuition.
“I am a 28-year-old homeowner. During the pandemic both my A/C and furnace blew out, so I had to take on additional debt to live comfortably,” said Schaust. “Any bit of government assistance would be immeasurably beneficial to my well-being. It’s heartbreaking to say the least that our political leaders cannot overcome partisan differences to benefit us everyday Americans who feel as if we are drowning and could use a hand.”
Minnesota’s cities and country governments, too, are dealing with significant setbacks in revenue. In May, Emily Larson, the Mayor of Duluth, told MinnPost: “We are being financially decimated by the absolute drop in revenues as a result of the impact of COVID on people’s lives.” Trump’s reasoning for not delivering another stimulus package, he said on Twitter, is specifically because he does not want to give more Federal aid to Democratic states, which he called “poorly run, high crime, Democrat States.”
Sharkey, who is taking things day by day, said obviously COVID is impacting everyone. But he hopes one day, for his generation, there will be a sense of normalcy. He blames the President and the Senators blocking any future negotiations on a bill.
“I graduated high school in 2008 — right in the middle of the economic downturn,” he said. “12 years later, we’re doing it again. At what point do I get to live my life and spend my money on things that I want to versus just barely scraping by?”