My three younger siblings and I were raised by the restaurant industry. My mother has either worked in or run restaurants all over central Maine for my entire life. This is a career path that I began exploring in grade school, when I would bus tables at my family’s pub in exchange for crumpled up $5 bills from the more generous servers at the end of the night; sometimes my mom would even throw in a root beer. Waitressing is now what allows me to stay enrolled in college. If you would have asked me a year ago, I would have said it was a nearly-perfect job for a college student, or at least that the pros heavily outweigh the cons. But things have changed.
Throughout my years in a restaurant, I have witnessed the unfathomable highs of a record-breaking week in sales and the lows of those three slow weeks in November and February, but nothing has really compared to the penny-pinching months of 2020. Each shift is tainted with defeat and exhaustion. This exhaustion is not the typical “sore body after your third 12-hour day of racing around a busy restaurant” kind, or the “headache following a particularly difficult customer interaction” kind. It is a collective exhaustion of worry.
My coworkers are former students struggling to chip away at their student loan debt; they are parents wondering what they are going to get their kids for Christmas, or how they are going to pay rent after another $20 day. After months of waiting for the customers, we are now waiting for the stimulus money our government promised us — money that will both bring our bank accounts some security and bring in customers.
It’s hard to say when this money will arrive, and though recent events in Washington on the topic of COVID-19 relief show steps towards bipartisanship, they also make government aid seem even further out of reach.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins has been leading a push from Republican Party senators for serious reconsideration of President Biden’s initial COVID-19 relief package. His proposed $1.9 trillion bill was met with the Republicans’ $618 billion stimulus proposal in the spirit of bipartisanship, and avoiding a bill that is really only backed by Democrats. In an interview with the Bangor Daily News, Collins recounted her current standing on aid, a bipartisan solution, and the dispersing of stimulus money.
Collins brings up valid concerns with Biden’s current bill, such as accounting for billions of unspent dollars from the CARES Act, and $200 million dollars in rent relief for Maine. These are funds that have already passed, but people still aren’t able to access because of hold-ups in the government. The Maine senator has also been spearheading a movement to reassess who will get stimulus checks, one that has been well-received by Biden. The Washington Post reports that Biden is now in support of giving $1,400 payments to individuals who make under $50,000 and couples whose collective income is less than $100,000. These cut-offs have been adjusted from the initial bill in order to ensure that stimulus money is put back into the economy, rather than left sitting in a bank account.
Despite Collins’ successful moves in support of a bipartisan solution, and encouragement of an economically salient stimulus package, there is something missing. Where is the senator’s drive to support Maine people –– Maine people who are fighting for their livelihoods and their sanity in a time of economic uncertainty?
There is no question whether government support is needed in Maine’s current economic situation. Clearly, Mainers need the money. But by looking at restaurant workers as a single example, it becomes even more apparent that relief is necessary, in the form of more direct payments, for people who still have their jobs, but have lost much of their income. If Collins is interested in standing for Maine people in Washington, getting direct stimulus passed without delay should be a first priority; further negotiations and popularity among her Republican colleagues can come later.