With federal and state government shutting down the economy en masse all across the country, bold and creative plans are needed to stave off economic catastrophe. Unfortunately, our lawmakers in Washington show more creativity in their insider trading schemes than they do in creating a plan to navigate us through the current crisis.
Senate Republicans yesterday unveiled their stimulus package which is supposed to, among other things, provide financial assistance to Americans hurt by the government’s response to the China Virus. The plan is garbage. There is no other way to put it.
The bill will try to save the day by giving $1,200 to any tax payer who earned less than $75,000 two years ago. Somehow I don’t think that’s going to cut it. Employing the laziest kind of means testing imaginable, Republicans decided that payments should be based on an individual’s 2018 tax returns. Payment amounts for single people would begin to phase out at the $75,000 threshold and then disappear at $99,000. For couples filing jointly, $2,400 would be paid for any households that earned less than $150,000 in 2018. The amount would decrease gradually from that point and disappear entirely at $198,000. Each child would be worth an additional $500 payment. On the other end of the spectrum, individuals who had little tax liability in 2018 but at least $2,500 in qualifying income will receive $600. Individuals who had no qualifying income two years ago will receive nothing.
This is not just a bad plan. It’s a disgrace. The problems here are many and obvious. Let’s go over a few of them:
1. Not everyone is earning today what they earned in 2018. What about a person who made $105,000 in 2018 but earns $70,000 today and has been out of work for two weeks because his state shut down? This plan would offer him no relief. Meanwhile, a person who made $60,000 two years ago, currently makes $100,000, and hasn’t lost any income because he’s working from home, would receive a full payment. Likewise, a person who had no income two years ago but earns $35,000 today should be eligible for compensation but this plan would pay him nothing.
2. What about single parents? A single mother with three kids does not file her taxes jointly. Under this bill, she would count as a single person and miss out on any payment if she earns more than $99,000. But a person supporting three kids and themselves on a low six figure income is by no means wealthy. Indeed, a childless individual earning $60,000 is much more well off than a single parent of three kids earning $100,000.
3. Of course some of this depends on where you live. A married couple with a few kids earning $200,000 in New York could already be living paycheck to paycheck. Now what if their business has been destroyed by the lock downs, or they lost their job, or had to take a pay cut? This plan has nothing for them. The bill controls for income but does not account for cost of living. Neither does it account for a person’s current job and income status. You might as well draw names out of a hat or send checks out to random addresses in hopes that they find a person in need.
There is a better way of doing this, but it requires, as I said, a very small amount of creativity: Send checks to everyone. At least everyone who is not a multi-millionaire. People are going to need way more that $1,200, so look for wasteful government programs and agencies to cut. Washington squanders many billions of dollars every year. It shouldn’t be hard to find additional funds. Foreign aid would be another place to look. Perhaps we can’t afford to be sending welfare checks to foreign governments in a time like this.
Once you’ve sent everyone a check, kick off a campaign to encourage those who don’t need it to #PassTheBuck. Americans love to donate. There’s a reason even the dumbest and most questionable Go Fund Me campaigns can raise millions of dollars overnight. The government simply cannot, especially under such a time crunch, reliably identify who actually needs the money. They only know the income you earned the last time you filed taxes. They don’t know your current situation. They don’t know how much money you’ve lost or will lose. But all of these details are absolutely essential. A plan that ignores them is useless and will achieve almost nothing.
Fortunately, individual Americans know who in their families and among their friends and in their communities is most in need. I could personally name a dozen families off the top of my head who need a check much more than I do. If I got one, I’d send it their way. Yes, some people will be selfish and keep the check even if they don’t need it. That’s their right. This is, after all, our own money we’re getting back. It isn’t a handout or a welfare program.
But experience and history shows that many millions of Americans would be thrilled for the chance to do a good deed and pass the buck along. Empower individuals to make their own decisions and help each other. A plan like this would represent an ideal partnership between citizens and their government. It may not be perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot better than what the Republicans are offering.