The White House has announced a plan to send stimulus payments to American workers who are suffering during the lockdowns and quarantines. It hasn’t all been worked out yet, but the idea, tentatively, is to send two checks of $1,000 a piece. These payments will only be sent to those who earn under a certain amount, though the amount hasn’t been decided.
The stimulus package will also provide relief to a number of industries that have been especially hurt by the outbreak and the response to it. There is little doubt that congress will try to stuff this bill – which is already looking to top $1 trillion – with untold millions of dollars in pork and other unrelated expenditures. We’ll have to fight over that when the time comes, but the basic idea to send relief to American families is good. Even as someone who is usually opposed to government handouts of nearly any kind, I would wholeheartedly support this initiative.
A few general points need to be made here:
1. Some on the Left and the Right have argued that this would be “welfare,” or “socialism,” or that it would be tantamount to the Universal Basic Income proposed by Andrew Yang. None of these terms apply here. Yang’s plan was to give American $1,000 a month in perpetuity. Not in response to a pandemic, but as a new economic system. Socialism and welfare are, again, systems that go on without end and work to make citizens dependent upon the government.
The proposal from the White House is entirely different. It would be a measure taken in response to an unprecedented global crisis. Lots of extraordinary things are happening right now. Normal life and ways of doing things have been upended across the board. A person can support a stimulus under this circumstance without granting even an iota of credibility to UBI or socialism.
Also, Americans are losing money and jobs because the government has shut down their places of employment and told them to stay home. Whether these steps are justified or not, the result is that many people are being prevented, by the State, from working. It seems only fair the State would compensate them in that case. Besides, what other choice do we have? People need money. Something must be done for them. Perhaps it’s as simple as that.
2. Some Republicans have pointed out that families with children would need more than single people. Others have worried that the rich and people who are working from home will get checks even though they aren’t experiencing much financial hardship. We can all probably agree that ideally we shouldn’t be sending stimulus checks to people who have no need for them, but what’s the other option? It would be extremely difficult for the government even on a good day and under normal circumstances to figure out who needs the money and what amount they each need. These are not normal circumstances and this is not a good day. The government would have to make these determinations very quickly because the stimulus won’t be much good if they arrive after 6 months of bureaucratic deliberation.
There might be a better way. I liked the plan proposed by Josh Barro on Twitter that checks be sent to everyone (to exclude, perhaps, the very wealthy) while people who don’t need the money are asked to pass their checks along to people who do. This may seem enormously naive, and maybe it is, but I tend to think that a great many Americans will choose to be charitable in this way if given the chance. All you would probably need is a snappy hashtag – #PassTheBuck, perhaps? – and a campaign could be organized to encourage those of us who still have an income to help a neighbor in need. I would certainly be happy to Pass The Buck. I’m betting millions of Americans feel the same way. There may not be much unity on Twitter or in Washington, but on the local level, in our communities, Americans take care of each other. And we better. Because there are some very tough times ahead, no matter what happens.