Not an Ideal Process or an Ideal Agreement, but, Finally, a Deal

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BOULDER, Colo. — On the day before Thanksgiving, Dave Query had to close his restaurant for good. For some 26 years, Zolo Grill had been a popular eatery in Boulder offering Southwestern fare. But the slowdown in business, he said, and the cost of complying with state and county safety protocols became too much.

“There’s a moment when you have to put a bullet in the head and bury it in the backyard,” Mr. Query said. Several other restaurants that he owns are challenged, he said, and at this point he is looking for whatever help he and his employees can get.

“It should have come a lot sooner,” Mr. Query said of the stimulus package that congressional leaders agreed to on Sunday. “But anything is better than nothing.”

The legislation would provide direct payments and jobless aid to millions of Americans, as well as support for small business, hospitals and schools. For many, it is long-awaited relief, as families have been pushed from their homes and workers have lost their jobs.

Neither the deal, far smaller than the first stimulus package, nor the painfully prolonged process that produced it struck people interviewed on Sunday as ideal. But, as Mr. Query said, at least there was — finally — a deal.

The emergence of the coronavirus vaccine has stirred hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel, allowing many to imagine life on the other side of the pandemic.

The agreement is expected to provide stimulus payments of $600 to millions of American adults making up to $75,000 and to revive lapsed supplemental federal unemployment benefits at $300 per week for 11 weeks — half the level of aid delivered by the $2.2 trillion stimulus law enacted in March.

It would also continue and expand benefits for gig workers and freelancers, and it would extend federal payments for people whose regular benefits have expired.

Raquel Lodestro, a massage therapist in the South Bronx, said she works when she can, having to leave her 10-year-old son at home while he attends school remotely. “Three hundred dollars — yeah, it’s a blessing and I will appreciate it,” she said of the unemployment aid, “but you are telling everybody that $600 is too much?”

“The fact is,” she added, “that for us even to get ahead during this pandemic was a godsend, for us to be able to survive this.”

The previous stimulus package was passed about nine months ago, just as the virus took hold in the United States, prompting widespread stay-at-home orders limiting movement and commerce. It took months to negotiate the new one as the pandemic spread out of control and people burned through their savings.

“This, the pandemic, and the associated economic impact, is not a partisan issue,” said Isabel McDevitt, who founded Ready to Work, an agency in Colorado that offers employment, housing and support services to adults transitioning out of homelessness. “Republicans and independents, unaffiliated people, everyone is being impacted. So absolutely, there needed to be more action.”

Lisa Hahn, a stay-at-home mother of four teenagers in Forest Hills, Queens, in March started a support group for parents of children with special needs. Many parents in her group are not able to work, she said, because their children require constant supervision and one-on-one instruction to participate in remote school.

“I think a lot of our families, especially in New York, are really struggling — I hear it, I see it,” she said, adding: “I think that they should have passed this over a month ago, or longer. And I really think it should have been a bigger stimulus than it is.”

In New York, many are still scarred by the darkest and deadliest days of the virus, and now, because of the economic situation, the city is still being drained of people and talent.

Eric Ulloa, a writer for theater and film who also acts on Broadway, said he was seeing the posts of friends and colleagues being pushed from the city — “just deferring the dream of what they wanted to do,” he said, “which was to perform or to write or to compose or create or direct or photograph — every one of those dreams are all on hold.”

For those facing the most pressing need, the $600 payment would be welcomed, but many questioned just how much a difference it would make.

The financial news site Business Insider calculated that in America’s largest cities, looking at average monthly expenditures, the money would carry a two-person household for less than two weeks. The previous stimulus law included payments of up to $1,200. A report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that most of those funds were used to pay off debt or put into savings.

Housing advocates were encouraged to learn that the agreement might include a moratorium on evictions.

“It’s great to hear, but once again we’re just putting more Band-Aids on some inevitabilities,” said Joseph Zanovitch, the executive director of HOPE, a homeless outreach program in Colorado. “It’s a positive, but it’s also like a looming cliff — how long will this actually last?”

The deal does not include direct funding for state and local governments, which concerns Alec Garnett, the speaker-designate for the Colorado House of Representatives. And Mr. Garnett said he was exasperated with Washington lawmakers’ inability to arrive at an agreement sooner.

“The slow pace that this has moved is exactly what Coloradans hate about partisan politicians in Washington,” Mr. Garnett, a Democrat, said, adding that his criticism applied to both parties. “Differences should have been set aside months ago, to help keep small businesses open, keep them employed and keep food on the table.”

Kathy Valentine, an advocate for mental health support in Boulder, was among those who cast blame on President Trump for failing to facilitate an agreement. “Leadership?” she asked. “There is no such word in his vocabulary.”

The economic fallout from the pandemic has strained food banks. Nederland Food Pantry, which serves the rugged mountain communities of western Boulder County and also neighboring Gilpin County, has been serving as many as 185 households a week, compared with 65 this time last year.

The Northeast Iowa Food Bank in Waterloo has seen a similar surge in demand. “It’s a lot of people who never thought they’d be in this position because everyone was working,” said Barbara Prather, the food bank’s executive director. “Things were going well. Then 2020 happened, then the pandemic happened.”

Don Miller, owner of the County Line chain of barbecue restaurants based in Austin, Texas, was not sure how he would benefit from the stimulus package. But the previous one, he said, had helped him and his business for about three months.

“Whatever the stimulus plan is, it’s about time,” Mr. Miller said. “We’re out here hanging on by our fingernails on a day-to-day basis. And we just need to get something done. Even if it’s just crumbs, each time they give it out is just fine with us.”

Charlie Brennan reported from Boulder, Rick Rojas from Nashville and Sarah Maslin Nir from New York. David Montgomery contributed reporting from Austin, Texas.

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