INDIANAPOLIS—A group of religious and community leaders are calling on Indiana’s two senators to support an economic recovery bill that would extend unemployment benefits, help immigrants and provide aid to states, cities and towns dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The current bill before the Senate — called the HEALS Act — doesn’t go far enough to help the people most directly affected by the pandemic that continues to spread across the country, said the leaders of Faith in Indiana, which is composed of more than 190 religious organizations of Indiana.
The group had a virtual news conference Thursday to urge Indiana Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun, both Republicans, to act. The extended unemployment benefits and other aid from the first rounds of COVID-19 support legislation expire this week.
“The Senate’s delay has pressed families against the cliff,” said Erin Macey of the Institute for Working Families as she described how many Hoosiers were just getting by before the pandemic and the economic fallout hit.
The U.S. House of Representatives weeks ago approved a $3 trillion COVID-19 relief package and now the Senate is working on its own version that would be worth about $1 trillion.
Some of the provisions under discussion in the Senate version would cut the weekly $600 supplemental unemployment benefit to $200 while protecting businesses from being sued for failing to protect employees and customers from the virus.
“Hoosiers are facing a new set of obstacles,” Macey said. “They needed to do something weeks ago.”
The COVID-19 pandemic shows no sign of slowing as the number of cases continues to rise.
The Indiana State Department of Health reported 970 new cases Thursday for a total of 65,253 as well as 13 more deaths totaling 2,746.
The U.S. Department of Labor also reported Thursday that Indiana had 20,609 new claims for unemployment insurance for the week ending July 25, up from 17,911 the week before. In all, there were 226,972 Hoosiers collecting unemployment last week.
Hoosiers are not only facing the loss of jobs because of the pandemic, they could also lose health insurance tied because it’s tied to their employment, said Fran Quigley, director of the health and human rights clinic at the Indiana University McKinney School of Law. Then, the state could be facing rising costs for Medicaid because of the number of Hoosiers who could then qualify for the state-sponsored medical insurance.
“Sens. Braun and Young are choosing to make it worse by not supporting Hoosiers who are struggling most during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Quigley said.
More than 16 million people nationally lost employment insurance and benefits due to COVID-19 between March and May. This means that thousands of families will not have the proper health care needed if they were to be affected by the virus.
Faith in Indiana noted that people of color, immigrants, and other minorities were more likely to lose their jobs, housing and face hunger, which is why members are also pushing for an extended eviction moratorium and increased benefits for programs like SNAP and Medicaid.
The group also pointed out that the wealthiest Americans have gotten benefits from the aid packages, noting that three of Indiana’s billionaires saw their wealth increase by nearly 17% since the start of the pandemic, while poorer families are facing bankruptcy.
“To de-prioritize the needs of people is to re-prioritize the wealth and security of those who are already doing well at this time,” said Clyde Posley, senior pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Indianapolis, in urging the lawmakers to be compassionate as they consider the aid package.
Members of the group said they have reached out to Young and Braun and received generic emails that did not address their issues in response. Neither senator could be reached for comment Thursday.