Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell spent all last week testifying about the recovery on Capital Hill. His message: This is a tale of two economies, and one looks much stronger than the other.
But that’s only one side of the story.
The other side
“The risk going forward is that people are spending [now] because they have money in the bank even though they’re unemployed,” Powell said.
But once that money runs out, people might start scaling back their spending — a potential body blow to the recovery given consumer spending is the economy’s biggest engine.
Fears of funds drying up
One possible reason is that unemployment benefits are now lower: a supplemental $600 in weekly jobless aid, part of Washington’s first stimulus bill, ran out at the end of July, and Congress hasn’t agreed on a new stimulus deal.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order to bolster benefits again, though by $400 a week this time, by diverting money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA said that some states have already exhausted their allocated amounts.
Meanwhile, businesses using the Paycheck Protection Program to make it through the worst months of the crisis are worrying about funds drying up.
Problems like these underscore the importance of Congress taking action — and soon.
If Washington fails to agree on more stimulus the fourth quarter of this year, as well as 2021, could look much weaker than expected, said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC, in a note.
But now that lawmakers are more focused on approving a new US Supreme Court justice, worries are growing that no further stimulus will be passed until after the election.
Experts at Oxford Economics still believe a $1.5 trillion stimulus package could be agreed upon before the election on November 3.
But the window to get a deal done is closing fast and will require that rarest of commodities in Washington: compromise.