WASHINGTON — Chalk it up as another failure in the face of catastrophe.

Congressional leaders and White House negotiators were once again unable to come to terms Friday on a new COVID-19 relief package to help Americans blunt the pain from a sputtering economy marked by near record levels of unemployment in the face of a deadly virus.

In Hawaii, the situation is especially dire as the state once again implements travel restrictions in response to the increased community spread of the coronavirus while tens of thousands of island residents remain out of work, many of them while still waiting to receive their unemployment checks.

Reese Fujimoto has his nose swabbed for a COVID-19 test at the Waipi'o Peninsula Soccer Complex Saturday, June 27, 2020. Dr. Scott Miskovich continues to lead the Premier Medical Group Hawaiʻi in COVID testing as the State is experiencing a recent rise in positive cases. (Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)
Reese Fujimoto has his nose swabbed for a COVID-19 test at the Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex last month. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2020

“The stated disengagement from negotiations is of course terrible news for the country and for Hawaii regardless of what party you’re in or what situation you’re in,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Case, a Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. “It’s incredibly obvious that a major stimulus package is critical to the country now so I’m deeply disappointed by the inability of the negotiations to conclude with a consensus package.“

A $2 trillion stimulus passed by Congress in March provided billions of dollars to states and local governments as well as additional unemployment benefits and moratoriums on evictions.

But many of those benefits expired at the end of July as partisan disagreements over what a new spending plan should look like led to stalemates between Democrats, who proposed a $3 trillion plan in May, and Republicans, who want something much smaller.

Case said both sides have found some areas of tentative agreement, but are still far apart on some issues, such as whether to provide more money to state, local and tribal governments.

Congressman Ed Case Talk Story at Campbell High School.
Congressman Ed Case, seen here during a town hall before the pandemic, is frustrated by the slow moving negotiations. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

There’s also disagreement between the parties on additional jobless benefits that provided $600 a week in additional unemployment income. That plus-up expired on July 31 and Democrats would prefer to see it come back at the same level while Republicans have said they prefer the amount be closer to $200.

“This is a very, very intense negotiation that is being carried out in the heat of a critical presidential election and critical elections to determine the governing majorities of both the Senate and the House,” Case said.

“That’s about as difficult a negotiation as you’re going to have. Both sides are negotiating publicly and privately, and I think it’s very unfortunate that the public gets yanked and pulled all over the place emotionally when millions and tens of millions of folks across the country are in direct immediate need.”

Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono took to the Senate floor Thursday to lay the blame squarely at the feet of President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans, who she criticized for ignoring the plight of the nation’s essential workers who face the threat of contracting COVID-19 every day while they try to make ends meet.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono says Republicans, including President Donald Trump, deserve the blame for not letting a new relief bill move forward. Nick Grube/Civil Beat/2020

She noted that a number of Honolulu bus drivers have contracted the virus, and relayed the story of one in particular who was spat on by a passenger who refused to abide by social distancing requirements.

Flight attendants, nannies and firefighters are also on the front lines, she said, competing with people who refuse to wear masks and the ever present danger of bringing a deadly virus into their homes.

“Something as simple as showing up to work every day shouldn’t be an act of bravery, but that’s exactly what we’re expecting from our essential workers every day,” Hirono said. “If they can show up and do their job, Congress should certainly step up and do our job.”

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