Social distancing in Washington state and throughout the nation has escalated quickly in the last week or so as the effort continues to slow the spread of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.
We’ve gone from recommendations for elbow bumps in lieu of handshakes and advice to stand three feet apart to cancellations of sports and other public events, closures of public schools and colleges and orders for restaurants to limit their operation to delivery or curb-side take-out.
And most are doing their best to comply with these adjustments to daily life, rearranging their lives to occupy kids and to work from home and venturing out only to make runs to the store in hopes of securing a few rolls of toilet tissue.
Gov. Jay Inslee, like other governors throughout the country, has made tough calls on school and business closures and other measures that, while necessary to slow the disease’s spread, will inevitably mean financial impacts for laid-off employees and for businesses that close down or lose customers.
The government — local, state and federal — having taken those measures must help the public and businesses comply. Some of that help already is available or is on its way, but more will need to follow and soon.
The federal Small Business Administration and Washington state’s Department of Commerce have help available for affected businesses. Congress earlier provided $7 billion in low-interest disaster loans for small businesses to help them meet financial obligations and cover operating expenses. The state Commerce Department also will work with businesses to extend filing and delay payment of state taxes. A full list of assistance programs is available at tinyurl.com/Covid19WACommerce.
The U.S. House last week passed a package of legislation — negotiated with the White House and with bipartisan approval — that mandates paid sick leave for workers at firms with fewer than 500 employees, with tax credits for those businesses to offset that cost. The package also provides additional unemployment support and food stamps, fiscal help for states and would also provide coronavirus testing at no charge when recommended. (The legislation was supposed to head to the Senate this week following technical corrections in the House on Monday, but it has now been bottled up by Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert.)
But even with that package stalled, others in Congress are considering a second round of assistance. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, has proposed direct payments of $1,000 to every adult American to help families — particularly helpful for those facing lay-offs or having to pay for unexpected childcare — to meet more immediate obligations and to provide a boost to local economies.
The Trump administration had earlier proposed a payroll tax break, but that assistance would not have helped those who are not on payrolls, such as those working in the gig economy, the unemployed and those who are retired.
Romney’s legislation would also provide additional help for small businesses — bridge grants, rather than loans that would have to be repaid — through the SBA for small businesses that suffer a revenue loss of more than 50 percent; additional help for students through Pell Grants and loan deferments for recent graduates; and requirements for health insurance providers to cover telehealth services related to Covid-19 at no charge to the insured, with the government covering the costs for insurers.
The arguments against such assistance usually fall on the contention that such payments discourage work and productivity. That’s not the concern here. Government action related to the outbreak is either mandating or resulting in a loss of employment for many; it’s only right that the government provide support for those complying — voluntarily or not — who aren’t reporting to work or are otherwise feeling the economic effects of social distancing.
Fighting the spread of Covid-19 already has demanded great sacrifices from many Americans. Those sacrifices will have to continue for weeks, perhaps months. As well as disrupting our daily lives, for many this will significantly set back family finances.
In the interests of strengthening the nation’s economy — and calming the nerves of those on Wall Street who no longer seem impressed by lowered interest rates — quick action by Congress and the Trump administration is required.
That assistance should be viewed as necessary to help every American avoid Covid-19 and limit its spread. That support comes at a cost, but it’s a cost that would be dwarfed by the financial losses — not to mention the deaths — that would follow if Covid-19 is not better contained.