Labor Day in an election year normally marks the start of the final sprint to election day—it’s the date at which Congress fully turns its attention from governing to reelection. But with the government only funded through the end of the month, and no federal COVID-19 relief since March, we hope that won’t be the case this year.
COVID Relief Package?
The expected COVID relief bill never materialized in August, as talks broke down over the size and priorities of the bill. Democrats were unwilling to go below $2.2 trillion with a package that covered expanded unemployment insurance, assistance for state and local governments, and funding for safe elections. Republicans largely opposed those priorities and were unwilling to spend more than $1 trillion, although they agreed with Democratic leadership on another round of $1200 checks.
Even in the failed talks, our priorities were largely missing.
Those priorities include:
Investing in good paying clean energy jobs, through initiatives like renewable energy tax credits. Clean energy can put people to work while also making our communities healthier and more resilient.
Freezing utility shut offs nationwide. During this public health emergency, we must make sure that everyone has the resources to stay safe and healthy while at home. And we should invest now in the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Weatherization Assistance Program to create jobs and lower utility bills.
Curbing air pollution, especially in communities of color that have borne an unfair share of our dirty air. Research has shown this unfair burden of pollution is one reason communities of color have been hit harder by the virus. We can start to change this by investing in programs like the EPA’s Environmental Justice Grants.
Promoting health and jobs in former coal communities by including the RECLAIM Act. This bipartisan bill offers the opportunity to both protect public health and provide immediate employment for hard-hit communities by funding clean up and economic development in communities with abandoned coal mines.
Negotiations have continued sporadically, but both sides now say a deal is unlikely until at least after the election.
The federal government is funded through September 30th, meaning that without action, the government would shut down on October 1st. That’s unlikely, however, as both parties feel pressure to avoid a shutdown in the weeks before the election.
Negotiations are currently ongoing to continue funding the government at current levels into December. Democrats may try to attach extra funding for COVID relief to that short-term budget, but it’s unlikely that they will consider our priorities.
Alaska National Wildlife Refuge
On August 17th, the Trump Administration announced that it will open the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, with leasing starting possibly as soon as this year. Drilling in the refuge would be a disaster, both for Alaskan natives and the wildlife that depend on the area, and for all of us, who need oil to stay in the ground if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change. If this move is successful, it’s estimated that drilling could continue for half a century.
However, even if an auction is held this year, it would be 8 years before drilling could actually start. The ultimate fate of the refuge is likely to depend on the next president.