Unemployed Due to the Coronavirus?
If you’re relying on support from your elected officials to weather the pandemic, you’ve got good reason to be worried. The $600 federal unemployment payment has just evaporated. The moratorium on evictions has expired. You’ve only got another couple of months before you have to start paying your student loans again. You could be in big trouble if Congress doesn’t act to address the problems facing the unemployed, and their willingness to be the grownups in the room is questionable.
Months ago, they worked together to hash out the CARES Act. That bill wasn’t perfect, but it’s been a lifesaver for low- and moderate-income workers who’d lost their jobs due to the novel coronavirus. Today, as the provisions of the CARES Act expire, they’re not willing to put their differences aside so they can draft a new plan.
Part of the problem is ideological
The parties’ basic beliefs are keeping them from reaching an agreement. The Democrats believe that individual outcomes are heavily influenced by social and cultural environments. According to that line of thinking, winning at the game of life relies heavily on the hand you were dealt.
Democrats root for the underdogs, those of us who came to the table holding mostly 2s and 3s, all in different suits. They believe in leveling the playing field, in lending a hand, and in honoring individuals in all their diverse expressions. They’re naturally suspicious of Big Business because they believe it prioritizes profits over people and works to maintain advantages for those who come to the table with a winning hand.
The Republicans believe that individual outcomes are the result of hard work and smart decisions. According to that line of thinking, worthy individuals will make progress commensurate with their efforts.
The businesses they develop through the sweat of their brows will thrive and produce material wealth for their owners, jobs for other people and, ideally, value for society. Republicans are naturally suspicious of Big Government because they believe it works against them by reducing their profits, restricting their freedoms, and taking too big of a bite out of their pie.
Most of us aren’t so one-sided. Although we may identify primarily as Democrats or Republicans, deep down we know that our position in life is the result of a combination of innumerable contributors including our environments, our efforts, our genes, our cultures, and a dose of plain old dumb luck.
“I think a good sign of being an idiot in life is believing that all virtue is vested in one of these political parties and all evil in the other.” Lincoln Project Cofounder Steve Schmidt
Most of us aren’t idiots. And even though we are in many ways the masters of our own fates, right now the environment holds an oversized sway over the unemployed. Lots of us have jobs we can’t safely return to, and lots of us had jobs that have disappeared solely because of the pandemic. But it’s hard for the Republicans to let go of their belief that people who are suffering must be doing something wrong.
They’re not working as hard as successful people do, or they were irresponsible with their money. Otherwise, they’d be rich, right? Because success depends on your own efforts and that alone.
“It just wouldn’t be fair to use taxpayer dollars to pay more people to sit home than they would working and get a job.” Steven Mnuchin
There it is. Did you hear it? You’re just sitting at home, not working, and it goes against everything the Republicans believe for someone to receive money they didn’t earn. It’s as if you're unemployed because you’re lazy rather than because a pandemic swept the nation and closed down your workplace.
Ideology can dissolve reality in the eyes of those who are fused with their belief systems. And that’s not the only problem.
Put the “Pee” Back in Pandemic
What to do when you’re all dressed up and there’s nowhere to go
Part of it is systemic
The two halves of Congress haggle like merchants at a flea market.
You know haggling. When you’re buying, you offer a pittance. When you’re selling, you ask too much. You and the person you’re haggling with go back and forth, incrementally offering more if you’re buying, edging down on price if you’re selling, until you finally meet somewhere roughly in the middle.
Neither side is completely satisfied. Neither gets everything they want. But you reach an agreement that’s acceptable enough to each of you to make a deal. Haggling is commonly used in street markets and yard sales, at car dealerships, in real estate (where it’s known by the less shady-sounding terms of offer/counteroffer), and in Congress.
The Democrats made the first offer on this round of the relief package. As hagglers do, they asked for more than they’d ever get just to see how much they could squeeze out of the other side.
The HEROES Act passed by the Democrat-led Congress back in May contained provisions for another $1200 stimulus check. The Act includes hazard pay for essential workers and continues the $600 weekly unemployment bonus through the end of the year.
The bill would extend the pause on student loan payments for another year. And it would include student loan forgiveness of up to $10,000 for students whose incomes are low enough to warrant a payment of zero if they’re on an income-based plan.
It would extend the moratorium on evictions, earmark money for rental assistance, and provide mortgage relief to prevent foreclosures. No debt of any kind could be pursued by collectors. And because that would hurt debt collectors, well, they’ll get a handout, too.
All of that is, at least tangentially, related to the pandemic. But to put a little punch behind their haggle, the Democrats also added provisions to increase SNAP payments and funding for Medicaid. They allocated money to promote evidence-based health practices and disease prevention among the elderly. Poor people and seniors are disenfranchised in the culture, so their thinking goes, and the Democrats root for the underdogs.
The Republicans refused to respond. They weren’t going to work with the bill passed by Congress; they’d make their own bill (and it would be UUGGE!).
And finally, it’s here. Known as the HEALS Act, the measure includes provisions for another $1200 stimulus check, just as the HEROES Act does. It also proposes a continuance of the unemployment subsidy but at a lower rate, from $600 a week to $200 a week, with a plan for further revisions, based on earnings records, down the road.
The HEALS Act also contains a liability shield, which means that if you go back to work and catch the virus, you can’t sue for your pain and suffering or your loss of income. Your employer won’t have to do anything to keep you safe and there won’t be a thing you can do about it if this provision remains in the final bill. Remember, employers are the good guys to Republicans. Profits over people.
The Republicans propose a continuation of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) because the PPP benefits employers by making it possible for them to pay their help (or to buy a Lamborghini, whatever). And the Senate would also make forgiveness of PPP loans up to $150,000 automatic and forgiveness of loans up to $1 million pretty durn easy (so no reason not to buy a Lamborghini, when you think about it). These are business owners we’re loaning our tax dollars to, after all, the good guys.
All of that is (at least, tangentially) related to the pandemic. But the Republicans would also like to see provisions for giving NASA $1.5 billion, for providing more ships for the Navy, and for providing $1.8 billion to be used for renovating the FBI’s headquarters. They’ve included all of that in their bill.
They want to set up a committee to look at various government trust funds such as Social Security, to fund scholarships for students at the private schools rich people (good people) send their children to, to move funding that is earmarked for state schools to private schools, to provide a 40% tax credit to chip (as in semiconductor, not potato) manufactures, and to allow a 100% tax deduction for business meals. Because, you know, eating at restaurants should be encouraged during an airborne pandemic. People who do it are taking their lives into their own hands; they should at least get a tax credit!
And if that’s not enough to shore up the good people (not that they need help, since they got where they are through their own efforts), the HEALS Act provides $20 billion to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to use at his own discretion. Specifically, the money could be used “…to compensate livestock producers for losses from killing animals that couldn’t be sent to slaughterhouses because of virus-related shutdowns and slowdowns.” Although it’s not mentioned in the Act’s wording, they’re talking here about the slaughterhouses that were shut down after they became hotspots for coronavirus infections due to workers on assembly lines being crammed shoulder to shoulder indoors while they do their bloody jobs.
“It is not going to be easy to get workers six feet apart,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University’s medical school. “If you space people out, you reduce productivity.” In the NY Times
The Republicans are all about being productive. Profits over people.
God help us — Congress isn’t going to
What would it be like if our elected officials came together and figured out what would truly serve the populace instead of haggling over the ideological dregs in their respective swamps? Trump was right that Washington is a swamp; he was just wrong about draining it. Instead, he dove right in.
He’s not the kind of born leader who will help us to cope with our grisly circumstances. He’s not capable of rising to the occasion. Instead, he’s contributed to the chaos by putting his own desires ahead of our survival.
It was Trump who wanted to address the FBI building renovation in this bill. He was behind the liability shield inclusion. He’s looking out for number 45. And it will pay off for him. He’ll be all right.
But will we?
A deadly pandemic is sweeping the nation; our means of livelihood have disappeared; and sadly, most concernedly, our government has gone off the rails. That’s our environment at the moment. It’s not pretty. It’s not conducive to our success.
But our outcomes aren’t only about the environment. Only an idiot would say it’s our efforts alone or our environments alone that determine our outcomes.
We have a small amount of power here. We have phones. We have email. We have the means to contact our elected officials and let them know we’re holding them accountable.
And we can vote. It’s only a small bit of control for each individual, in a time where we are largely powerless. But together, we can put an end to this madness. Together, we can make a change.