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A Publisher's Rant

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How will history judge this one, particularly chaotic week in time? Whose fault is it our country is failing in so many ways?

Top of the list is the president, with his long list of fails: the failure to recognize the magnitude of this coronavirus pandemic at every step, a repeated failure to embrace science and plan accordingly, and a total failure in leadership of the country. (No, we are not 50 countries; we are one.)

Next are Senate Republicans with the possible exception of Mitt Romney. The most evil is Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and his most heinous crime to date was to unilaterally block the previous president's constitutional right to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. History should never forgive him for that act alone.

But let's focus on this year, this week and this point in time.

Congress as a whole acted quickly and admirably in allocating $2 trillion to fight the pandemic by passing the CARES Act, signed by the president March 27. That included initial $1,200 stimulus checks that went to almost every adult in the U.S. for things like groceries and rent. Some employers were able to hire back laid-off workers and not go out of business. After a rocky start, the feds began direct subsidies to states to help the newly unemployed.

There were certainly flaws in the CARES Act — unintended consequences. The blame for these should be shared by both parties and corrected before the next round of economic stimulus is sent to the president.

House Leader Nancy Pelosi continues to stand before cameras and claim Republicans are heartless because they refuse an extension of the federal $600 unemployment bonus to "poor people." I'd never want to be across a negotiating table from her but I suspect she doesn't know any poor people. As long as workers were unemployed or partially unemployed, the feds added $600 per week to their state unemployment insurance check. In California, the top UI is $450 a week. With the fed bump, that's $1,050 a week, or the equivalent of $54,600 a year. (But the rates vary widely throughout the country, ranging from a maximum of $235 a week in Mississippi to $844 in Washington state. You do the math and raise your hand if you want to be laid off in Washington State. Me, too.) Dems should acknowledge that employers have had trouble getting good, trained employees back to work under this program and Congress needs to modify its incentives. Actually, reducing it to $400 for a while isn't a horrible idea and neither is basing long-term federal help at a set percentage of actual income.

The CARES Payroll Protection Program, which benefitted the North Coast Journal and hundreds of other local businesses, was not without flaws either, which should be corrected when and if there is a round two. Corporations like Shake Shack or franchises like McDonald's should not have been eligible to receive funds.

Finally, the entire Congress seems hell bent on a second round of direct economic stimulus payments: $1,200 per person, per household. Why? It will be spent in a flash and then what? How about something better and longer lasting?

Remember Andrew Yang, that guy who ran for president? Steal his idea. Stimulate the economy by replacing much of our very flawed welfare system with a Universal Basic Income of $1,000 or so per person, per month. (Some households would need additional direct special needs help.) Students who graduate high school could stay home and go to community college. New mothers could take a year off with the baby or go back to work and dad could stay home. Those of us who don't need the $1,000 could give it to a good cause.

I remember sitting in an economics class at Humboldt State University in the late '70s. In those days we were all excited about an idea to have a more just welfare system that was cheaper to administrate and did not make people feel guilty or ashamed. It was called the negative income tax (NIT). (President Richard Nixon proposed an NIT in 1969. It passed the House but failed in the Senate.) Yang's UBI would be even easier to administrate and not limited to tax credits for the under-employed, like today's Earned Income Tax Credit.

In May the Dems proposed a new version of the CARES ACT called the HEROS Act, a $3 trillion bill that included much needed aid to federal relief agencies, as well as state, local, tribal and territorial governments. This week they are dropping their ask to $2 trillion and Republicans, who have been nothing but "wait-and-see" on CARES II since May and have made no concrete proposals, are now making their move. This week they say they are willing to support another round of $1,200 stimulus payments, renew a version of the Payroll Protection Program and continue some level of supplemental UI, McConnell told CNET on Monday.

Both parties are moving closer to a CARES II or whatever they call it. Let's see how much imagination, cooperation and flexibility they can muster this week in order to get something to the president's desk again. After all, the federal UI boost expired last week, going from $600 per week to zero overnight. I don't think either party envisioned the unemployed falling directly off a cliff.

Meanwhile, our president just last week marched into an appliance manufacturing plant to the tune of "Live and Let Die" before going to play golf. Then over the weekend he issued a number of executive orders that should be ignored. (He should be reminded that Congress appropriates funds.) Let's hope he spends more time out on the golf course until Congress has CARES II ready for him to sign.

And as we wait to see how this unfolds, I suggest you do what I do when I need cheering up: Ask Siri how many days until Nov. 3.

Judy Hodgson is the co-owner and publisher of the Journal and prefers she/her pronouns. Reach her at hodgson@northcoastjournal.com.

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