Say it again for the people in back: You cannot save the economy without first subduing the virus.

Experts in infectious disease have been repeating that truth since the novel coronavirus first appeared. But you don’t need an epidemiology degree to know that it’s true – just look at every state that has tried to resume activity too soon and been rewarded with a spike in cases and subsequent hit to their economy.

Placing economic activity ahead of virus suppression doesn’t work. Yet it’s been the approach taken by the White House, and now it’s central to the relief plan released Monday by Republicans in the U.S. Senate.

As long as that’s the case, any sense of normalcy is far off.

The proposals at the heart of the $1 trillion package – the Senate’s response to a $3 trillion plan from House Democrats – encourage economic activity with little regard for safety.

In doing so, the Senate stimulus legislation would shift even more of the pandemic’s burden onto the backs of low-wage workers. And it would only extend the amount of time that the virus puts our health and economy at risk.

Worried that enhanced unemployment benefits are eroding Americans’ motivation to work, the Senate plan would cut the benefits, put in place early in the pandemic, from $600 a week to $200 a week.

But it is almost certainly a lack of jobs, not an unwillingness to work, that is driving unemployment. Reducing benefits now, as the virus surges, would not only push millions of Americans into crisis, bringing an explosion of homelessness and hunger, but also crater consumer spending. It has held steady the last few months, holding at bay a larger economic collapse, because people who lost work still had money to spend.

The plan also forgoes any aid to state and local governments, which are struggling with significant losses in revenue. Without help, they would have to cut jobs and essential services. They’d have to cancel projects that local contractors depend on for income, leading to further job loss.

States also would be pressured to resume economic activity – to chase revenue – whether it’s safe or not.

And without sufficient benefits, unemployed Americans who don’t fall into poverty would be forced back to work, regardless of whether it’s safe or manageable for them and their families.

Both would force more people into situations where the virus can spread, and when cases inevitably increase, activities would have to be shut down again.

That’s what happened in Florida, Texas, California and other states that put economic activity before health. Rising cases of COVID-19 are once again causing people to stop going out – because of renewed lockdowns or their own sense of self-preservation – and the U.S. economy is faltering again.

As a result, in so many ways related to COVID-19, the country is worse off than we were two months ago.

An end to the harm caused by this virus has never looked further away, and a plan like the Senate’s is an invitation for more of the same.

Instead, we need a relief bill of the magnitude passed by the House, which includes beneficial items also in the Senate bill, like another round of stimulus checks to get people through and prop up consumer demand, and adds an extension of unemployment and generous aid to governments, as well as much-needed housing aid and protections, and more.

We need a relief bill that will make individuals and businesses whole, allowing states to impose the restrictions necessary to get the virus under control once and for all.

To save the economy, we have to beat the virus. We should know by now that there is no other way.

 

 

 

 


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