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1 in 10 Go Hungry as Trump and McConnell Fixate on Challenging Election Results

Economic recovery is slowing as COVID-19 cases surge and Congress remains deadlocked on pandemic relief.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell heads to the Senate floor to gavel the Senate into session on November 9, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

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Federal data shows nearly 11 percent of adults – including up to 14 percent of adults living with children — report their households do not have enough to eat. Hopes that Congress will pass another pandemic relief package before the end of the year are growing dim, as President Trump fixates attention on trying to overturn the election he lost.

Economic recovery is slowing as the United States experiences a surge of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths, threatening to send cities and states with high infection rates back into lockdown to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. The federal government estimates 10 million people – including 4 million children – will be pushed below the federal poverty line in late 2020 as unemployment benefits are set to expire in December without further relief from Congress.

However, Trump is now laser-focused on attempting to overturn the election, pushing disinformation and conspiracy theories as his campaign files failing lawsuits challenging the vote. Talks between the Trump administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on pandemic relief broke down last month, and administration officials have indicated they are unlikely to take the lead on negotiations now, leaving the job on the GOP side up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, according to The Washington Post. McConnell attempted to normalize Trump’s unprecedented behavior, arguing before the Senate this week that Trump has the right to challenge the election in the courts.

Congress has failed to agree on pandemic relief since passing a $2.2 trillion package in the spring that provided stimulus checks starting at $1,200. With all eyes on two upcoming runoffs in Georgia that could wrest the Senate from his control, McConnell has said that passing another pandemic relief package before the end of the year is a priority. However, McConnell is pushing for a “highly targeted” stimulus package similar to a $500 billion proposal that Democrats rejected months ago, arguing it did not provide nearly enough economic relief.

Democrats are doubling down on their proposal, the HEROES Act, a $2.2 trillion package passed by the House earlier this year that includes another round of $1,200 checks to each individual, along with badly needed assistance for state and local governments. McConnell has consistently refused to take up the package in the Senate, where conservatives wary of social welfare spending rebelled against compromise measures offered by the Trump administration and moderates. Democrats already cut $1 trillion from the HEROES Act since the House originally passed the legislation in May.

Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other top Democrats are now demanding Republicans drop their support for Trump’s effort to overturn the election and pass pandemic relief.

“What are they thinking? People are suffering,” Pelosi said during a press conference on Thursday. “They seem to have a mental block to doing the right thing.”

Analysts say Senate Republicans are not likely to embrace a strong stimulus now that Pfizer has reported preliminary data showing that its COVID-19 vaccine is 90 percent effective. However, a trial for the vaccine is ongoing and has yet to be approved by federal regulators. Consumer advocates warned this week that Pfizer’s preliminary data does not show whether the vaccine is safe or whether it will effectively prevent COVID-19 in vulnerable populations.

On Tuesday, McConnell pointed out that unemployment has fallen to 6.9 percent as evidence that only a “highly targeted” stimulus is needed. However, unemployment could spike again if the third wave of COVID-19 forces even more parts of the country back into shutdown mode. On Wednesday, Illinois issued guidance urging people to stay home, and the city of Chicago will enter an official stay-at-home advisory beginning Monday. Other states and cities will likely follow. A record 153,000 new COVID-19 cases were reported in the U.S. on Thursday alone, and the U.S. has seen over one million new cases in the past 10 days, more than any other nation.

Despite the positive jobs report cited by McConnell, about 1 million people applied for unemployment insurance last week, more than any time during the Great Recession, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Many workers are exhausting their state unemployment benefits as the pandemic drags on – the number of state claims dropped by 436,000 last week – and federal emergency unemployment benefits will expire on December 26 without congressional action.

Meanwhile, the economy has not recovered from the damage caused earlier in the pandemic as what little support is left from the initial relief package dwindles — and lower-income households and households of color are suffering the most, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Nearly 80 million adults — about one in three — report not having enough money to cover basic expenses, such as food, rent and medical bills, including 40 percent of households with children.

Nearly one in six renters are behind on rent, including 26 percent of Black families and 18 percent of Latinx families, according to the Center’s analysis of federal data. Some federal protections for renters are in place, but Democrats want a tougher eviction moratorium passed with a stimulus. Attempts by landlords to evict their tenants have been reported across the country.

Nearly 24 million adults — 10.9 percent of the population — report that their household sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in the past week, according to data collected in mid-October. Between 8 and 14 percent of adults with children reported that their kids sometimes or often did not have enough to eat. Compare that to last year, when only 3.7 percent of adults reported their households going hungry during the entire course of 2019.

Rates of hunger are much higher among Black and Latino households, where workers are more likely to work in low-income industries that suffered massive job losses due to the pandemic. About 19 percent of Black households and 18 percent of Latinx households reported not having enough food to eat sometimes or often in the past seven days. The Trump administration was in court last month attempting to block emergency food assistance for the nation’s poorest families.

Back on Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans remained deadlocked over pandemic relief on Thursday, with Democrats pushing their $2.2 trillion proposal and attacking Republicans for focusing on Trump’s efforts to reverse the election results, according to reports. McConnell said he wants Congress to pass another stimulus but continues to stand by his $500 billion offer.

“I gather [Pelosi] and the Democratic leader in the Senate still are looking at something dramatically larger,” McConnell said. “That’s not a place I think we’re willing to go.”