As the coronavirus keeps spreading, Congress must keep moving quickly to assist households, small businesses and sectors of the economy.
Partisanship and bureaucratic shortcomings — particularly in the availability of testing and medical supplies — remain serious concerns.
But teamwork, compromises and urgency shown last week in Congress to advance relief spending are positive signs, especially considering the federal government’s tragically slow start after the outbreak began in China in December and spread to Washington state in January.
The nation must be united in its battle to slow the infection rate, assist those suffering from this public-health crisis and prevent devastating economic hardship.
Dollars required are staggering and will exacerbate the national debt, increasing the burden on future taxpayers. That borrowed money is being used for stimulus spending is a serious decision and should add rigor to deliberations.
At the same time, this crisis demands enormous federal spending to confront the immediate danger, provide basic needs for potentially millions losing wages and jobs, maintain economic stability and prevent an economic depression. Federal aid packages this month are likely just the beginning of what’s needed to supplement existing safety net programs such as unemployment insurance.
“This is the rainy day; it has come,” said U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor.
Members of Congress are negotiating the latest aid package, which should be approved soon. The $1 trillion proposal is divided between households and businesses, including direct payments of perhaps $1,200 per person for immediate support and economic stimulus.
Even $2,000 would not be enough for those in a severe crisis, noted Jacob Vigdor, professor of public policy and governance at the University of Washington. His analogy: If one in five homes is on fire, should the feds give each a bucket of water?
For those losing jobs, “it’s going to be nowhere near enough,” he said, especially for suddenly unemployed workers in Seattle paying $1,800 a month for an apartment.
An economic study by the Metropolitan Seattle Chamber of Commerce estimates 40 percent of jobs in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties will be affected by COVID-19 related temporary layoffs or wage reductions.
Payouts would be the third virus aid package from Congress. Round one was $8.3 billion largely for public health. Signed into law March 6, it is funding treatment, prevention, vaccine development and state response efforts. Round two, approved last week, began to address immediate needs of those directly affected, providing paid emergency leave, free COVID-19 testing and expanded Medicaid funding.
Round three is aimed at economic harm now apparent in the Greater Seattle region. This plan must “go big” and reach the “most needy,” as Gov. Jay Inslee said last week.
Details are in flux. As proposed by Senate Republicans, this round would also provide $300 billion to support small businesses and $208 billion for airlines and other distressed industries.
Newspapers should receive $1 billion of the support. Local media especially has proved its worth during the crisis. The Seattle Times has dropped its paywall on all coronavirus coverage, ensuring nonsubscribers can get the information they need.
The industry was already suffering, with local news no longer provided in more than 1,300 communities across the country, and the sudden recession will likely result in further contraction nationally. Yet the press is essential to inform voters, sustain democracy and provide community knowledge and cohesion that are critical during a public-health crisis.
Federal aid is complemented by smaller state programs, such as Inslee’s emergency suspension of evictions, plus tax and utility-bill assistance, announced last week.
Local efforts help but thoughtful, effective and enormous federal spending is required to help Americans and the economy get through this challenge and back to health as quickly as possible.
A $1 trillion stimulus plan is likely just the start. Congress and presidential candidates must be planning for additional, more deliberate and targeted stimulus, potentially a New Deal 2.0 recovery effort, after the pandemic crests.