WASHINGTON, DC (NEXSTAR) — The heads of the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department were back on Capitol Hill today to update the Senate on the status of the economy as the pandemic rages on in the U.S.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told senators what their next move should be, but it’s up to Congress to act.
“How do we move to the next step?,” asked Sen. Richard Shelby, R-AL.
Shelby said the economy is recovering, but 11 million Americans are still unemployed, mostly in the travel, hospitality and entertainment industries.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-AR, pointed to the airline industry, which runs out of billions in COVID-19 aid on Oct. 1. Cotton said a flight attendant asked him for help on a recent flight.
“She was afraid that she was about to lose her job in early October, and it would be the first time in her life that she had ever gone on unemployment,” he said.
Sen. Doug Jones, D-AL, asked about one particular demographic on the unemployment line.
“How are these single moms going to put food on the table?,” Jones said. “How are they going to pay for the necessities?”
Jones stressed nine million Americans, who are mostly low income, still have not received their $1,200 stimulus checks. He asked Mnuchin to extend the Oct. 15 deadline to register.
Mnuchin said he would look into that but told Sen. John Kennedy, R-LA, Congress could help now by allowing the Treasury to spend the $130 billon in unused Paycheck Protection Program funds for another round of payments to the hardest-hit businesses.
“That would be your number one priority?,” Kennedy asked.
“That would be,” Mnuchin said.
Powell told senators if he had to repurpose part of the CARES Act money, it would go to PPP funds and the unemployed, but noted a healthy economy ultimately comes down to healthy people.
“Is the vaccine the single best thing that we can get?,” Cotton asked.
“Yes, in the long run I think that’s what it’s going to take to get business travel back to near where it was,” Powell said.
A coronavirus vaccine in the U.S. is still on track to become available early next year. Members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force told a Senate committee Wednesday they should know by December if the nation’s six vaccine candidates are safe and effective, and have tens of millions of doses ready to distribute.