The cure for what currently ails America is a booming economy. Even if U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s staggering $3 trillion spending proposal actually aided those who need help the most, which it does not, it would be a poor substitute for real economic activity.
Over the past few months, we’ve witnessed the heartbreak of the death of tens of thousands of our fellow Americans while at the same time watching an economic catastrophe as more than 33 million have lost their jobs, many of them the poorest and most vulnerable among us.
If you can work from home, are retired or are otherwise financially secure, home quarantine may be a challenge, but isn’t a disaster. But if you’re lined up at a food bank, standing with tears in your eyes as you wonder how you are going to pay the rent, buy gas and feed your children, you feel a sense of crisis that’s difficult for those not in this circumstance to appreciate.
The federal government has spent more than $3 trillion trying to help small businesses, the recently unemployed, cattlemen, farmers and others who are experiencing a financial crisis caused by this virus. What we have done was essential and necessary. But it can’t continue this way forever.
The simple fact is, the U.S. government can’t replace the incomes of the tens of millions of people who have been impacted by the virus. The only real answer is allowing people to get back to work.
Which leaves U.S. and state leadership with the obvious challenge of developing policies that seek to protect both our health and our economic future?
Yes, we should be shielding those who are at the greatest risk. But we also need to create a path forward for the rest of America to go back to work so that they can take care of their families.
As we begin to formulate these policies, we need to consider new information that wasn’t available to us before. For example, our immediate reaction to the COVID-19 crisis was to close everything down and stay home — in essence, avoiding the virus.
Given the information we had at the time, it seemed our only choice. But one of the primary things we’ve learned over the past several months is that the virus doesn’t treat all people the same. Older Americans and those with underlying medical conditions are at a much greater risk than are the young and healthy.
Our policies should reflect this fact. And a good place to start would be in our unemployment payment policies. States should authorize those workers in high-risk categories to continue receiving unemployment benefits if they choose not to return to work due to a documented health condition.
As of right now, if an individual has been laid off and is then called back to work when their job becomes available loses unemployment eligibility if they are not ready to return to work.
For most people, getting called back to work is great news. But for those in the high-risk category, this presents a nearly impossible choice; return to work and take the significant risk of getting sick or lose their benefits and be cast into poverty.
Other states should follow Utah's lead in allowing those age 65 and older, plus those who have an underlying health condition, to remain home. This would protect these at-risk individuals. At the same time, by allowing the young and healthy to get back to work, we can revive the economic machine that is the primary protector of the American dream.
We feel this plan properly merges the important concerns of public health professionals, private citizens, and businesses that can’t survive a continued shutdown. We are committed to work together to move our nation forward from the dark days of this virus.
Chris Stewart, R-Utah, represents the 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, represents District 13 in the Utah House of Representatives.