Yahoo Finance: Montana Senator calls for ‘meaningful’ coronavirus stimulus: 'This economy is at a tipping point'

by Akiko Fujita

Positive developments on the coronavirus vaccine have helped the stock market rally to new records, and fueled optimism about the economic recovery.

But, Senator Jon Tester (D., Mont.) said the U.S. economy remains at a “tipping point” without any fiscal relief in sight. Speaking to Yahoo Finance Live, Tester said a short-term aid package, absent of any “meaningful” measures, would only amount to a “stopgap” measure that would not move the economy forward.

“I think that if we put forth a bill that solves a quarter of the problem or half the problem we’re really not doing justice to the American economy,” he said. “What we need to do here is act responsibly, be fiscally prudent, but understand that this economy is not going to turn around as [Fed Chair Jay Powell] said, to the extent that we want it to, unless we make an investment in that economy.”

Talks to draw up a new coronavirus fiscal stimulus package have been stalled for months, even as Congress scrambles to finalize a full-year spending plan before the December 12 deadline. On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House and Senate introduced a roughly $900 billion compromise proposal to restart discussions, signaling a potential thaw in the stalemate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have put forward their own offers, indicating that neither side is close to a deal.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2009, after the Senate passed the stimulus bill. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. talks to reporters on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Tester said he would not commit to the bipartisan proposal yet.

“It really is important to see how that money is distributed and [see] if this is a stopgap measure that will require another package in the middle of January, the middle of February, or if we’re actually going to do something that’ll help push the economy forward,” Tester said. ” There are a lot of folks out there that are hurting, we’re probably not going to solve all the problems, but we do need to make a bona fide effort to solve some of them.”

Food chain is ‘totally inadequate’
With unemployment benefits set to expire for millions of Americans late this month, there is growing concern that any delay in economic aid will push those most vulnerable further into poverty. In addition to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a nationwide moratorium on residential evictions expires December 31. Meanwhile, student loan payments halted by President Trump this year, will be up for repayment in January.

Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger relief organization, said more than 50 million Americans are likely to experience food insecurity by the end of the year, as a result of the economic pain brought on by the pandemic. That number represents a 50% increase from 2019. Tester said the issue of hunger is especially prevalent among the country’s veterans, with as many as 20% experiencing food insecurity.

Last month, Tester and Senator Debbie Stabenow wrote a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie, urging their agencies to step up coordination and act quickly in addressing the problem. He added, the pandemic has exposed how “totally inadequate” the food chain is.

“The demand isn’t going to go away immediately with a vaccine,” Tester said. “It’s going to take a while to get that vaccine distributed. In the meantime, we’ve got hungry people. We need to deal with that because it’s not acceptable in the richest country in the world.”