Mark Reynolds and Julie Becker: Cash payments give Americans crucial economic support
Mark Reynolds and Julie Becker
COVID-19 is first and foremost a public health crisis, but as it has unfolded, it has rippled out into an economic crisis, too. The stock market has been volatile, lurching in ways we haven’t seen since the 2008 recession. Businesses are closing their doors as millions stay home to try to limit the spread of the virus.
Here in Nevada City and Grass Valley, we’ve witnessed the cancellation of numerous concerts, plays and public gatherings. We’ve seen the closing of restaurants, bars and movie theaters, as well as a host of small businesses deemed to be non-essential during this emergency.
As we shelter in place, we know we need to watch out for one another; to make sure that physical distancing does not lead to social isolation. And we cannot help but worry about the severe economic blows dealt not only to our local businesses and nonprofits, but also to people in our community who have been laid off from their work or are self-employed and not able to maintain their usual patchwork of jobs.
Recently, Congress passed an enormous $2 trillion economic stimulus bill — the largest emergency relief package in U.S. history. While details were haggled along the way, when it came for the final vote, there was unanimous support across party lines for direct cash payments to people across the country who needed the funds the most.
As a result, the plan includes a $1,200 payment for individuals earning $75,000 or less and $2,400 for married couples earning up to $150,000. There was broad agreement that during a crisis, it would help to put cash in people’s pockets. These payments, along with increased unemployment benefits, will hopefully allay some of the economic distress affecting citizens all over the land.
When we emerge from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, whether it be in a few months, a year or more, we hope that Congress is able to turn its attention to climate change — another looming crisis — and in doing so, it will not forget this lesson: Direct cash payments are a simple, transparent, and fair way to support Americans when economic winds are shifting.
Climate change demands that we stop emitting greenhouse gases, which are trapping excess heat in our atmosphere and upsetting our planet’s delicate balance. Over the next 10 years, America needs to move from a fossil fuel-based economy to a clean energy economy. That will be a major change, but it should not be an acute crisis like we’re in now. By planning to give cash payments to Americans, we can ensure the health of our economy while making a gentle transition to a clean energy future.
Here’s how. Congress could put a price on carbon pollution, driving our economy away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy sources, and it could rebate that money as an equal cash payment, or “dividend,” to all Americans each month.
This is especially important for low and middle-income Americans, who might otherwise struggle with the cost of energy and other price increases as we shift to a clean energy economy. When dividends are given to everyone on a regular basis, regardless of their income status, low and middle-income Americans benefit dramatically. For anyone concerned about the “least of these” in our society — who are uniquely vulnerable to both economic shocks and climate change impacts — direct cash payments are an effective tool to help meet their needs.
Cash dividends are transparent and easy to track, unlike tax offsets or rebates. This visibility helps people and our elected officials stay focused on the problem at hand: right now, the pandemic. Soon, climate change.
According to the government, stimulus checks are due to be distributed as soon as April 6. For those who have arranged with the IRS, the money will be automatically deposited into their bank accounts early in the month. Paper checks will be mailed a few weeks later. But in either case, much needed cash is on the way.
It’s clear that money in the hands of Americans helps keep our economy running, which is why direct cash payments are being used as a tool in the current crisis. So let it be resolved: When we’ve dealt with COVID-19, let’s use the same tool to combat climate change.
Mark Reynolds is the executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Julie Becker is a member of the Nevada County chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
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