HARRISBURG, Pa. — More than fifty advocacy organizations have sent a letter to Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation urging immediate action on a new COVID relief package.

Ten months into the COVID pandemic, more than 1.3 million Pennsylvania households report they are struggling to put food on the table and half a million households have fallen behind in their rent.

Jeff Garis, outreach director for the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, said many provisions of relief packages passed early this year, such as extended unemployment assistance and the moratorium on eviction, will expire if Congress doesn’t act when they return from the Thanksgiving recess.

“We need to know that when people get to the holidays they’re not going to find themselves cut off from the vital aid that they need,” Garis emphasized. “So, we are calling on our members of Congress and our Senators, don’t be the Grinch this year.”

The House passed the HEROES Act, an expanded relief bill, in May but so far the Senate has failed to pass a supplemental relief bill.

Garis contended the two so-called “skinny relief” packages proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would do little to meet the growing need. 

“In both cases, he didn’t have enough votes to even pass that,” Garis observed. “So, we have to see a renewed emphasis in the Senate on getting realistic about the kind of relief that people across Pennsylvania and across the country need.”

He said with millions set to lose benefits on the day after Christmas, Congress at least needs to pass what he calls a short-term down payment on a broader relief bill.

Garis hopes such a package would include extensions of the eviction moratorium and unemployment assistance.

“We are also calling for an increase in SNAP benefits, the program that used to be called food stamps,” Garis noted. “We want to see that increased by 15% to help families put food on the table.”

A recent report from The Century Foundation found without congressional action, 12 million people nationwide will lose federal benefits on Dec. 26.

Andrea Sears