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Op/ed: U.S. Can Emerge From Pandemic a Better, More Resilient Society

Economist Calls for Ongoing System of Supplemental Income Support to Weather Crises

By Melissa S. Kearney

Cars line up at drive-thru food pantry

Photo by Neil Blake/The Grand Rapids Press via AP

Cars line up in the parking lot at a drive-thru food pantry at Woodland Mall in Grand Rapids, Mich., early this month. The National Guard helped distribute the food at the site, which was run by Feeding America West Michigan. The pantry is one of many set up after COVID-19 arrived in Michigan.

This coronavirus crisis highlights the need, and presents the opportunity, to rebuild U.S. society on a surer foundation that delivers financial security and a better economic system for all, economics Professor Melissa Kearney writes in an essay in The Hill

The long-term response to the crisis should include a bipartisan commitment to a system of supplemental income support to help meet needs during economic downturns, increased food and housing assistance for low-wage workers, a commitment to bridging the income-based digital divide and more funding for higher education, says Kearney, director of the Aspen Economic Strategy Group.

Our nation is facing a once-in-a-generation challenge in the COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic crisis. These events will define us for decades to come, and we can only hope that we will be defined by the wisdom and courage of our response rather than by the failures that led us to this tragic place. It lies with us now to make policy choices that shape our recovery so that we emerge a better and more resilient nation. We should build, deliberately, on the temporary measures of the recently passed CARES Act to strengthen our safety net and make necessary human capital investments.

The temporary closing of businesses, elementary schools and universities, alongside the continued work of our nation’s essential workers—many of them low-wage workers —has made widespread economic insecurity and our society’s stark inequities even more obvious and galling. Millions of workers live paycheck to paycheck. Mile-long lines for food bank hand-outs are a stark image of economic insecurity. Just a couple weeks of reduced pay renders so many people unable to put food on the table. The longer this crisis goes on, the more acute and widespread the underlying household economic insecurity will be.

It was an impressive and laudable bipartisan act of Congress to pass the CARES Act so quickly, injecting $2.2 trillion into the economy, including $290 billion in direct economic impact payments to individuals and couples with annual earnings of less than $99,000 and $198,000, respectively, as well as $260 billion in expanded unemployment insurance benefits to laid-off workers. As we look ahead to the next set of bills and policies, we must deliberately spend and invest in ways that will strengthen our capitalist economy and expand economic security.

Read the rest in The Hill.

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