Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
Cassandra Veazey joined Twitter in October, she said, because that’s where “all of the idiot” politicians congregate.
The 33-year-old mother of eight then started firing off messages to those so-called “idiots” from her home in Valdosta, Georgia, where she hasn’t been able to pay her $850 rent in two months. She’s currently facing eviction. Her event planning business dried up during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving her with just $160 in weekly unemployment benefits. And even that cash will run out soon.
“PASS A DAMN STIMULUS NOW,” she wrote in a tweet to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, on Wednesday.
“Are you ignoring the will of the people on purpose…..Pass A Freaking STIMULUS already!!!,” she wrote in another tweet to the Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Saturday.
Self-employed workers like Veazey typically aren’t eligible for unemployment insurance, but the CARES Act Congress passed at the onset of the pandemic expanded aid to them and allowed others to collect jobless benefits for a longer period of time. But those provisions are set to expire the day after Christmas, and without a replacement, an estimated 12 million people will lose their benefits.
Stuck at home, many of them are rattling off furious messages in 280 characters or less to ask the nation’s most powerful leaders to break several months of partisan gridlock and give them some financial relief.
“Fuck you both,” said one Twitter user Wednesday, tagging both McConnell and Pelosi. “DO SOMETHING. We need a stimulus passed NOW. Cases are higher than ever. Families can’t pay for food and rent. People are getting kicked out of their homes. You both are personally digging the hole deeper with every passing moment.”
When the novel coronavirus first closed down businesses and choked off swaths of the U.S. economy in March, Congress was quick to act with the sort of massive, bipartisan action that was needed to save newly unemployed Americans from abject poverty.
The $2 trillion CARES Act expanded unemployment benefits to cover more people for longer, provided an extra $600 weekly check to out-of-work Americans, and triggered the distribution of $1,200 stimulus checks nationwide, among other provisions.
But when a key part of the stimulus bill, the $600 supplemental benefit, lapsed at the end of July, legislators couldn’t come together to replace it—and months of inaction have followed. That’s not for lack of trying; Negotiations between Pelosi and the White House were constant before Election Day, and the Trump administration offered a $1.8 trillion deal.
Now Congress agreeing on a bipartisan plan similar to the CARES Act in both scope and cost looks like a long shot. Political leaders promise they’re trying to come up with something to help—although they usually blame the opposing party for standing in the way.
“We did what we were supposed to: We stayed in the house, we locked down, we quarantined, we only went out for essential things,” Veazey said. Veazey’s fiancé, who also received small unemployment checks after he lost his job as a forklift operator, recently had to go back to work—albeit with fewer hours—to help the family make ends meet. Barely.
“We should be able to at least not feel this pressure of not being able to pay our bills or have a home to live in because they can’t agree on something. That’s garbage to me,” she continued.
In a letter Tuesday, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Pelosi asked McConnell to come to the table—despite Schumer previously describing McConnell as “Doctor No” when it came to dealmaking. That didn’t seem to go anywhere; McConnell said in a tweet Wednesday that Democrats had thwarted previous aid bills with their “unrelated liberal wish-list.”
Republicans and Democrats are hundreds of billions of dollars apart in what they’re willing to spend on a second relief package. They’re also steadfast on disagreeing about the particulars, including how much money to give to individual states or cities or liability protections for businesses. And leadership from both parties have stuck by their convictions, despite pleas to meet in the middle.
Judy Figueroa, a 54-year-old from Statesville, North Carolina, also recently created a Twitter account just so she could better target politicians including McConnell, President-elect Joe Biden, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, with her request for a stimulus deal.
She said she believes elected officials typically “don’t care about us.” The upcoming end of pandemic unemployment benefits won’t impact her personally, since she can’t work and receives disability payments. But she knows what it’s like to be poor, since she relies on meager monthly checks and food stamps to live.
"I’m so disappointed,” Figueroa said. “I’m downright mad at these people in office. They’re not doing anything to help the American people that are suffering right now.”
Pelosi and Schumer have repeatedly pushed a $2.2 trillion package called the HEROES Act—which the House of Representatives first passed earlier this year at an estimated price tag of $3.4 trillion before significantly lowering their ask. The package would include another round of stimulus checks; extended and enhanced unemployment benefits; and billions of dollars to fund schools, local governments, and coronavirus testing and tracing, among other provisions.
McConnell called the proposal “unserious” in a post to Twitter this week; He’s offered a far more modest “skinny” bill worth about $500 billion and appeared to still want only that amount on Tuesday, according to CNBC. The Republican bill, which failed to pass the Senate last month, would’ve funded more unemployment benefits but wouldn’t have offered stimulus checks and would’ve forced Democrats to accept liability protection for businesses facing potential litigation over COVID-19; McConnell has called that provision non-negotiable.
McConnell’s office did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment about the people tweeting at him to come to a deal. Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for Pelosi, slammed the senator when asked to respond to the Americans who feared they wouldn’t see relief until after President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration in January.
“For six months, Democrats have been pressing Republicans to agree to the next round of coronavirus relief, and for six months, Leader McConnell has insisted on a ‘pause’ while the White House’s negotiators accused vulnerable families of lying about not being able to pay the bills,” Hammill said. “House Democrats sent the GOP Senate the HEROES Act back in May, and compromised by $1.2 trillion to send an updated HEROES Act to the Senate in October. But as millions of families fall deeper into despair, McConnell’s emaciated proposal gives no stimulus checks, no rental assistance, no nutrition assistance, but does give liability immunity to employers who get their workers sick.”
And the fact that the state of the pandemic looks no different than it did in March—cities are once again shutting down to stem the worsening spread of COVID-19, hospitalizations are rising fast, and even members of Congress have fallen ill—doesn’t seem to be inspiring any greater sense of urgency. Senate members left Washington for Thanksgiving break Wednesday, according to TIME, while members of the House are expected to pack up and head home on Friday.
“I think I am seeing people’s sympathy for the unemployed draining faster now than at any point than I’ve been around,” said Michele Evermore, senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for policies that strengthen worker protections and support people who are unemployed or making low wages.