U.S. bishops praise bipartisan, ‘urgently needed’ COVID relief package

U.S. bishops praise bipartisan, ‘urgently needed’ COVID relief package

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., listens to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., not pictured, speak to reporters about the coronavirus aid package on Capitol Hill in Washington Dec. 20, 2020. (Credit: Ken Cedeno/Reuters via CNS.)

The U.S. bishops’ conference has commended the bipartisan work that went into the “urgently needed” coronavirus relief package signed into law by President Donald Trump on Sunday to avoid a government shutdown.

NEW YORK — The U.S. bishops’ conference has commended the bipartisan work that went into the “urgently needed” coronavirus relief package signed into law by President Donald Trump on Sunday to avoid a government shutdown.

“There are significant bipartisan achievements within this relief bill, and politicians who have worked around the clock to bring this to completion should be commended,” Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City said in statement.

The chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development noted food and shelter security, unemployment benefits and the eligibility of mixed status families – where one or more family members are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents and some family members are without legal immigration status –as key aspects of the package.

“I especially commend lawmakers’ efforts to ensure people have enough food to eat and a safe place to live, to support workers and those who are out of work, and to some mixed status immigrant families in stimulus payments,” the statement said.

The specifics of the $900 billion package include $600 stimulus checks for eligible Americans – individuals with a 2019 income less than $75,000, or $150,000 for married of joint filers. Mixed status families weren’t eligible for stimulus payments in the first coronavirus relief package in March.

There’s also up to $300-a-week in enhanced unemployment benefits through at least March 14, $25 billion in rental assistance and an extension of the eviction moratorium through January, $284 billion towards the Paycheck Protection Program loans for businesses, nonprofits, independent restaurants and church and faith-based organizations; $20 billion for the purchase of coronavirus vaccines, and $82 billion towards education.

Coakley pointed to the education funding as “meaningful help for Catholic schools.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was vocal about the importance of funding for private and Catholic schools while congress negotiated the package earlier this month.

“Religious and non-governmental schools educate approximately 10 percent of our nation’s schoolchildren. Many of these children are among our nation’s most vulnerable from high-needs communities, whose parents make enormous sacrifices for their education,” Dolan said. “They are no less afflicted by the coronavirus and no less entitled to emergency education funding from Congress commensurate with amount provided to district public schools.”

147 Catholic schools are slated to close and 26 more consolidate at the end of the school year based on National Catholic Education Association data from the end of November.

Notably missing from the relief package was direct funding for state and local governments. The first over $2 trillion relief package in March – known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, Economic Security Act – provided $150 billion in direct assistance.

It was one of the issues Coakley called for more bipartisan work on in the new year.

“Continued bipartisan efforts are strongly encouraged to help the millions who have lost health insurance; ensure the safety of persons in prisons, jails and detention centers; provide foreign assistance for vulnerable people in poorer countries; provide additional state and local funding; and address the expiring relief in this new package as need continues,” Coakley said.

Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg

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