Pandemic Relief and Politics As Usual

President Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanual,  was well known for saying “Never miss an opportunity to take advantage of a good crisis”. This was no more true than in the recent pandemic relief bill.With unemployment claims rising to record and unheard of levels and the economy crashing due to the pandemic lock down, Congress and the President rushed to provide relief to Americans. The bill passed this week included an increase in unemployment compensation for laid off workers, aid for the airline and travel industries, aid for those without health insurance, aid for business that continues to pay its workers, extending tax deadlines and student loan deadlines, and other important provisions.

But those with a political agenda decided that a country in crisis was a good opportunity too good to pass up. Forget that we are trying to get money to the people who need it most and as quickly as possible. The bill took a week to debate and a large part of the reason is all the added pork barrel items. Things that had no relation to the pandemic but were pet projects that got tacked on. Things like:

–$75 M for the National Endowment for the Arts

–$75 M for public broadcasting

–$25 M for the Kennedy Center

–more money for the National Endowment for the Humanities

And the list goes on and on. This is all money that could be going to hospitals or to relief for American workers.

To add to the problem, the unemployment increases are not tied to income. In other words, you can get unemployment and it doesn’t matter how much you made when you got laid off. You will get a set amount, even if that amount was more than what you made. In effect some will get a raise by not working. And in this tough time, the implications are worrisome. Amazon is looking to hire 100,000 nationwide. Several grocery stores can’t get enough people to keep the shelves stocked and are offering $20/hour. But yet those jobs will go unfilled. Why? Because unemployment benefits are such that, even if $20/hour would have been a raise for a restaurant server or someone in retail, or that college student trying to make ends meet, the unemployment payment is more than that. So a person could actually make more money by not working—more money that the job that laid them off, and more money than the job that are desperately hard to fill.  And when people are paid more to not work than they are to work, we have a real problem in society.

 

The money in the relief bill is critically needed to help people suddenly in real need. That some politicians thought it was important to take money from where it’s needed and give it to their pet projects is disappointing.

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