Senate Republicans once again ignore the unemployed
Senate Republicans gave themselves another great opportunity to speak up for millions of unemployed Americans at Tuesday’s hearing on the damage COVID-19 has wrought in the live events industry. Once again, they screwed it up.
Despite the live events industry employing more than 12 million Americans across all 50 states – many of whom are either facing imminent unemployment or have already lost their jobs – voices representing labor were invisible at Monday’s hearing. Sources involved in planning the hearing tell me Manufacturing, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee chair Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) blocked multiple Democratic efforts to expand the witness list until just one day before the hearing.
Even then, Moran allowed only a single Democratic witness: David Fay, president and CEO of Connecticut’s Bushnell Performing Arts Center. The exclusion of labor voices in the discussion of COVID-19 economic relief isn’t an accident; it’s the next step in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s well-publicized efforts to strictly limit the scope of any future pandemic stimulus package.
By rendering the unemployed invisible and voiceless, McConnell and the Senate GOP hope to limit any stimulus discussion to what can be done for businesses. That’s why a hearing ostensibly about workers hurt by the collapse of the live events industry ended up focusing entirely on measures that aid corporations: extending the Paycheck Protection Program, for example, or offering a liability shield to employers whose workers contract COVID after returning to unsafe workplaces.
“It could take decades for this industry to recover,” Fay told senators. Left unsaid is the inconvenient truth that a healthy live events job market will lag well behind the industry’s economic recovery. That means freelancers and currently out-of-work events specialists, theater technicians, electricians, performers and vendors could still be struggling for years after businesses return to profitability.
If that dark possibility was on anyone’s mind on Tuesday, no one spoke up about it.
Not once did any senator raise the question of how extending PPP helps the millions of event freelancers or those no longer on corporate payrolls due to pandemic-related unemployment. And while the Save Our Stages Act is a critical piece of legislation with bipartisan support, it does nothing to make otherwise unsafe theaters and event spaces safe enough for existing employees to return or new hiring to take place.
“Some witness testimony went so far as to damage our cause, stating that unemployed entertainment workers have taken on part-time jobs outside the industry to make ends meet,” unemployment advocacy organization ExtendPUA.org said in a statement sent to reporters. “While many have tried to do so, the work is not there, and too many…have been left with nothing but unemployment programs that are insufficient.”
The federal response to COVID-19’s sweeping economic destruction has been marked by an unwillingness to accept the full scope of the problem. That’s partly political, as the GOP tried to downplay the severity of the pandemic during the 2020 campaign. It’s also a result of failing to platform those most directly harmed by COVID-related unemployment. Unlike business leaders, unemployed events workers aren’t a powerful lobby group. They struggle to book time on their senators’ schedules. They can’t make chunky donations to a politician’s reelection campaign. None of that should matter.
It’s time for our elected representatives to acknowledge the full scale of this twin public health and unemployment crisis. Committee chairs in both the House of Representatives and the Senate must commit to ensuring labor is consistently and effectively represented in future COVID-19 economic hearings. Without that commitment, policymakers will continue to propose solutions that are both too small and too one-sided to protect those most acutely in peril.
In just 10 days, with this sprawling crisis nowhere near its end, nearly 13 million Americans will lose their unemployment benefits. Just a week later, eviction moratoriums and rent freezes lapse. The time has come for McConnell and the GOP to make good on its oft-repeated mantra that “every life matters.” The best way to do that is by ensuring those lives are seen and heard in all their uncomfortable truth.
The workers rendered jobless – and soon potentially homeless – by federal inaction are the true silent majority. They are ready and willing to tell their stories on the record and under oath. Are Republican committee chairs prepared to hear them?
Max Burns is an award-winning Democratic strategist, political columnist and founder of Third Degree Strategies.
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