Covid 19 is here, and about to wreak havoc on the finances of the tens of millions of hard-working, time-clock punching men and women of our nation. We must act today to protect our most vulnerable against economic disaster.
Hourly wage earners are the backbone of society. They perform the most tiring, difficult, tedious, dangerous and critical jobs. They have families to feed and shelter. They live paycheck to paycheck. They are proud and honorable. In this most difficult of times, they are the most vulnerable.
As businesses slow and stop and as children stay home and as people fall ill, many of our hourly workers won’t have work to do or won’t be able to work or won’t be allowed to work. Without paychecks, they will face hardship in a matter of days. After weeks or months, they will be in financial and familial ruin and misery. As tens of millions will suddenly be unable to pay their bills, the financial system will seize up like an engine without oil, and everyone will face a situation that will be far worse than need be.
Our hourly workers need help, now. They cannot wait for a government check that may not come until weeks or months later. They will not be helped by a holiday on payroll taxes. They cannot wait for our government to setup a entirely new welfare system. Their paychecks must continue to flow.
We must make it possible for employers, both big and small, to keep the paychecks flowing. Businesses must continue to pay hourly wage earners and other vulnerable workers who cannot work or who are not allowed to work, and the federal government must reimburse businesses with bankable vouchers, without delay. Everyone must be required to participate. Congress must mandate it via legislation.
This solution will be imperfect. Some workers will fall between the cracks. Those workers can be covered through the traditional unemployment system, with an expanded benefit.
This solution will be arbitrary. The subsidy will need to be capped. Perhaps at $20 per hour.
This solution will be subject to abuse. Some employers will defraud the system. They will go to prison. Some people who are able to work instead will stay home and collect benefits. They will be shamed by their employers and co-workers.
This solution will be expensive. It could cost $500 billion or more. But, to provide context, that cost is a small fraction of the $2.4 trillion the war in Iraq cost.
This solution will be invaluable. The cost of failing to protect our most vulnerable will be misery, many trillions of dollars from the federal coffers, and needless economic ruin. We can and must avoid that end.
Congress is dallying over a watered-down version of this solution that is destined to fail. It won’t cover people whose jobs stop because there is no work to be done. It is limited to two weeks of coverage. It doesn’t put reimbursements into the hands of businesses quickly enough. And, it exempts big business. Congress needs to recognize the vast scope of the problem, and must step forward with a comprehensive, immediate solution.
Every worker needs to continue to receive a paycheck throughout the duration of this crisis. The longer we wait, the worse it will be. #KeepThePaychecksFlowing
Matthew Rips is a partner at Russ August & Kabat, where he practices in the real estate and corporate and finance departments.