INDIANAPOLIS - On the other side of COVID-19 - whenever that may be - we want to see Hoosier families rebuilding their lives on firmer ground than before. That means more families with stable housing, quality jobs, and emergency savings. As we continue to face the pandemic and its fallout, we should be doing all we can to ensure that no family is left behind - meaning no-one goes hungry, becomes homeless, or suffers material hardship because of COVID-19.

Yet here we stand on the brink of a precipice: The ongoing crisis has rendered our government’s original consensus aid package insufficient. Without further assistance, Hoosiers are going to suffer even greater harm from the spread of the virus and the recession. The House has passed numerous bills that would provide another wave of relief for working families; why has the Senate refused to respond to these proposals?

Will our senators choose to take a big chunk of income from the more than 450,000 unemployed Hoosier workers and their families by refusing to extend the extra $600 in weekly unemployment payments before the end of July? Will our senators fail to close the loophole currently preventing more than 1.5 million workers from accessing the temporary paid sick or family leave established in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act? Will our senators allow dire economic circumstances to drive families to predatory lenders making the outrageous, triple-digit interest loans that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently declined to regulate?   

It seems unconscionable to fail to act when they are clearly aware that these problems exist, yet despite record-high rates of unemployment and looming deadlines for assistance to run out, the Senate recently took a two-week holiday recess without taking action on any of these issues. 

When senators return, it is critical that they continue pandemic unemployment compensation. Without it, workers who have lost jobs and do not have a job to return to or cannot return to work will receive, on average, just $302 in weekly benefits – the equivalent of $7.55/hour. Would any of our elected leaders trade places with these families? How will families afford the basics, let alone supply the level of demand our communities need to rebuild? In an economy that depends on consumer spending, the boost added by pandemic unemployment compensation is necessary to our recovery. In fact, the Economic Policy Institute estimates that continuing the $600 weekly benefit would save over 50,000 jobs in Indiana. 

When senators return, they must extend paid sick and caregiver leave to workers at companies with 500 or more employees. The failure to address this gap in the last piece of COVID legislation has put workers at meat packing plants, big box stores, medical facilities, chain restaurants, and other high-traffic establishments in a terrible bind when they develop symptoms. As schools reopen, it is essential for parents to be able to keep a child with symptoms home and to care for children whose schools or day cares shut down – or, as at least one Indiana district has done, choose not to reopen. 

When senators return, they should enact a usury cap of 36% or below so that lenders cannot capitalize on the hardships Hoosiers currently face, transforming desperation into profit. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s decision earlier this month to nix proposed ability-to-repay requirements for these lenders makes the issue all the more urgent. Otherwise, future stimulus funds and paychecks will get sucked into the pipeline from Indiana’s more than 250 payday loan storefronts to the out-of-state companies that operate them, or to online “tribal” lenders charging 300% APR or more. 

Perhaps our senators could also look further ahead, and take steps to ensure that more Hoosiers can weather future financial storms. They could explore expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit so that Hoosiers could build or rebuild savings, pairing these with Sen. Todd Young’s Refund to Rainy Day Savings Act, which uses tax time to encourage the establishment of emergency savings. These targeted credits would put money in the pockets of those who suffered serious income shocks or who worked in low-wage jobs, allowing them to build a financial buffer against future emergencies. Could we emerge from this crisis more resilient?  

Hoosiers have lost far too many friends and neighbors to COVID-19. There is no need to sacrifice more Hoosiers to economic catastrophe and material hardship when we have the policy tools we need. When you get back from vacation, senators, please use them. 

Erin Macey, PhD, is a senior policy analyst for the Indiana Institute for Working Families and the Indiana Community Action Association.