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As Coronavirus Wrecks Our Economy, We Turn to These (Policy and Economic) Experts for Answers

Yesterday, we listened to workers and union leaders as they described the new, metastasizing economic challenges caused by COVID-19 and the novel coronavirus. Today, we hear from a key group of economists and policy experts on the havoc this pandemic wreaks across the board, and what we can and must do about it.

Yes, it’s truly this bad. If Congress doesn’t act sufficiently soon, it will get exponentially worse.
Culinary Union
Photo by Andrew Davey

During a press call yesterday morning, UNITE HERE (International) President D. Taylor, Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Arguello-Kline, and other UNITE HERE officials from across America explained how dire it’s already becoming for their union members and other workers across the nation. As Arguello-Kline described the state of Nevada’s workforce, “Right now, they’re not only worrying about getting sick. They’re worrying about their shelter, how they’ll get food, how they’ll pay their utility bills.”

As these UNITE HERE leaders explained yesterday, as The Washington Post reported this morning, and as we’ve been warning everyone on these pages for the last ten days, we’re just beginning to take a severe economic hit from the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic. And as I tried my best to explain yesterday while debunking the increasingly dangerous and delusional happy talk from the likes of Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and White Pine County Sheriff Scott Henriod, we must either accept prolonged social distancing and society-wide shutdowns to minimize COVID-19 casualties or allow for as many as four million Americans to die from this pandemic.

This may read extreme. But quite frankly, our new coronavirus infected reality is quite extreme. This means that we need bigger and bolder solutions to help Americans survive this pandemic, both physically and economically. This is why I hopped on a press call earlier today hosted by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), where several of their staff economists were on hand to answer questions and provide their own recommendations to Congress as Democrats and Republicans prepare to fight over what this “Phase 3” $1 trillion+ stimulus package will ultimately include.

“Unless the president and Congress take significant action, we face a greater economic fall than we faced during the Great Recession. We need to think big, act boldly, and enact aggressive policies to prevent the economy from falling to the most severe depths it’s fallen in decades.” 
– Robert Greenstein, CBPP
Photo by Andrew Davey

In opening the call, CBPP President Robert Greenstein warned, “We face the twin challenges of containing the coronavirus and addressing the economic impact it’s having throughout our society.”

Greenstein then declared, “Here’s the bottom line: Unless the president and Congress take significant action, we face a greater economic fall than we faced during the Great Recession. We need to think big, act boldly, and enact aggressive policies to prevent the economy from falling to the most severe depths it’s fallen in decades.”

Just as the UNITE HERE leaders described yesterday, Greenstein stressed that Congress must develop this stimulus package in a way that directly assists people in need, not just bailing out major corporations. As Greenstein put it, “It is vitally important to provide more direct assistance to low and moderate income people, not just because they are most in need, but also because it’s the most effective means of economic stimulus.”

“Congress should provide more Medicaid funds to states. The Families First Act was a good start, […] but the $35 billion provided is a drop in the bucket compared to the actual need we have.”
– Aviva Aron-Dine, CBPP
Jacky Rosen, coronavirus, COVID-19
Photo by Andrew Davey

As the call progressed, additional CBPP experts weighed in on what exactly Congress must include in this “Phase 3” stimulus: expansion of unemployment insurance (including larger payments to recipients), further expansion of Medicaid (including higher reimbursement rates to states), reversal of the Trump administration’s cuts to SNAP and instead expanding access to direct food aid, expansion of the paid sick leave support that the Families First Coronavirus Response Act offers to select few workers, and across-the-board housing aid to provide safe shelter to those experiencing homelessness and prevent others from losing their homes.

On Medicaid, CBPP Vice President for Health Policy Aviva Aron-Dine explained why we need more: “Congress should provide more Medicaid funds to states. The Families First Act was a good start, […] but the $35 billion provided is a drop in the bucket compared to the actual need we have.” To put this into perspective, that $35 billion won’t even cover a 1% rise in unemployment, let alone a jump to 20% unemployment that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has warned could happen.

coronavirus, COVID-19, Steve Sisolak, Catherine Cortez Masto
Photo by Andrew Davey

She then noted, “Because of the Affordable Care Act, most Americans who will be losing their employer based coverage will have access to care via Medicaid expansion and the ACA marketplace.” But now that these people are turning to ACA programs like the health insurance marketplace and Medicaid expansion for help, the federal government must provide the states with the resources they need to keep up with the heightened demand.

CBPP Senior Director for Fiscal Research Michael Leachman then explained why states need more federal dollars to stay afloat: “Unless the federal government acts soon, states will begin to reduce staff and cut their budgets. Congress must provide emergency fiscal relief to states before that happens.” Right now, states (including ours) are feeling a double-whammy of lower tax revenues and growing expenses. As a result, they’ll have to make counter-productive budget cuts unless the federal government sends them money soon.

“Checks going to very wealthy people who don’t need this and won’t [efficiently] use them are dollars being taken away from things that are much more crucial.” 
– Robert Greenstein, CBPP
Andrew Yang, UBI, coronavirus, COVID-19
Photo by Andrew Davey

Speaking of sending money, CBPP President Robert Greenstein did explain his stance on the sudden burst of bipartisan support for emergency UBI. While former presidential candidate Andrew Yang (D) has taken a bit of a victory lap over some Republicans’ verbal offers of support for emergency UBI, Greenstein pointed to recent reports of Senate Republicans eyeing smaller payments to the working poor, seniors, and people with disabilities in warning, “We are deeply concerned that these payments may be designed in a way that leaves people out, people who need them the most.”

Greenstein also took issue with the very concept of UBI. He scoffed, “Checks going to very wealthy people who don’t need this and won’t [efficiently] use them are dollars being taken away from things that are much more crucial.” And contrary to some progressives’ criticism of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) for endorsing targeted cash aid over pure UBI, Greenstein suggested, “Checks going to very wealthy people who don’t need this and won’t [efficiently] use them are dollars being taken away from things that are much more crucial.”

Despite Pelosi’s insistence on “means testing” and Republicans moving toward their own version of “means testing” that directs more assistance to the more affluent, progressives in Congress, such as Reps. Maxine Waters (D-California) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) continue to push for UBI as a part of a larger coronavirus stimulus and relief package. More specifically, Waters now proposes $2,000 per month per adult and $1,000 per month per child in addition to debt collection, over $15 billion in housing aid, and additional expansion of the social safety net.

Go big… in order to support people as they stay home.
Photo by Andrew Davey

While Waters, a few other Democrats, and some Republicans are proposing specific UBI payments, Greenstein just suggested, “We think the checks should be robust, but we can’t provide a specific amount. We do think it will be irresponsible to design the package in a way that limits the funding for all these other critical programs.”

Ultimately, that seemed to be the biggest takeaway from this CBPP call: We can’t hang our hopes on UBI or any other one proposal that’s sold as some coronavirus panacea. Also, we shouldn’t worry about deficits or (government) debt when we’re experiencing such a severe crisis that’s threatening millions of people’s lives and millions more people’s livelihoods. According to the CBPP team and many more economists, the federal government must go big and act soon to prevent this coronavirus crisis from completely tanking the economy.

While we await further federal action, let’s remember how we can act to help each other now: If you’re in need of medical treatment, contact your primary health care provider first. If you fear you can’t afford treatment from a hospital or doctor’s office, check with the Southern Nevada Health District, Washoe County Health District, Carson City Health and Human Services, or the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services for resources in your area. If you can afford proper treatment and you are fortunate enough to help others in need, please donate to larger operations like Mutual Aid Disaster Relief and local groups like Three Square.

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