The House and Senate recently passed a bipartisan, veto-proof stimulus bill of $900 billion dollars which would give $300 extra dollars a week to the unemployed, a one-time $600 stimulus check as well as a bunch of other funding maneuvers that you can find here.
The Stimulus Bill and Donald Trump
As I started writing this article, Donald Trump announced a veto to the stimulus bill trying to raise the one-time check from $600 to $2,000.This did not pan out, unfortunately, but there was a real chance of action being taken, thanks to the power of Trump’s pocket veto.
This move is surprising and out of character for Donald Trump, to say the least.. A narcissist and a proto-fascist can try all he wants to pretend this is an issue over helping struggling families, but this whole schtick reeks of someone who wants a last media hurrah before he leaves the limelight.
This is a cynical move, but for a president that the media loves to call an aberration, a view that is incredibly misleading However, this cynicism is perfectly in line with a collection of political elites who won’t stop an eviction crisis, a department of labor that has been undercounting unemployment statistics, only giving people a few hundred dollars while eight million people have found themselves slide into poverty. These actions indicate how little our lives mean to them. It shouldn’t have to be this way.
Even with a new stimulus coming to the American people, the struggles for economic security will continue. After all, the stimulus bill is a mere band-aid on the larger issue of economic disparity. Without adequate welfare systems in place, one time payments and unemployment benefits fall short of the needs of the American people.
International Responses to the Pandemic: Minimum Wage and Rent Subsidies
Internationally, the pandemic looks far less like the chaotic cluster the citizens of the United States are experiencing. As stated in a previous article, foreign governments across the developed world have all taken approaches to combat the growing economic struggles caused by the pandemic.
Switzerland passed a $25 minimum wage. Other countries around the world, like New Zealand, have passed wage subsidies that provide a financial cushion to workers. Even in the limited cases where the United States provides economic security, like through rent subsidies in New York, these programs are often weaker and harder to access than other developed nations.
While the United States has had an apathetic approach to supporting its citizens, , other developed nations have not been acting as patron saints of their people either. For example, New Zealand has been repeatedly praised for its handling of the pandemic, but Prime Minister Ardern’s politics of austerity that have eroded worker protections, resulting in terminations and forced pay cuts has received a lot less attention. Even Switzerland had a business-first mindset that caused a large spike in Covid-19 cases before it changed course towards its current, more welfare-friendly stance.
In this context, it is more accurate to view each nation’s economic response to the virus existing on a spectrum. The United States has some of the fewest economic security measures for its citizens, but that has not stopped other developed nations from cutting their social spending exactly when people are in dire need of financial assistance. The specifics of the measured taken by t each country has done are complex and technical (if you are curious, you can read more here), but it should be noted that the United States has taken some steps towards maintaining its economic security, most notably via the CARES ACT passed in March, providing a single $1200 stimulus check and the weekly $600 Federal Unemployment insurance.
These policies are widely popular and important , yet, these exact policies have been cut in half in the new stimulus bill and arrived five months late. Why were some of the most vital economic stimulus policies on the chopping block when people needed them the most?
Austerity and Welfare Cuts During Crises
This pandemic is recent, and still on-going, but cutting welfare during a crisis is an old problem. During the Great Recession of 2008, many governments around the world implemented austerity measures that raised taxes while cutting social spending. The biggest example of this phenomenon was Greece, where the strain of constant cuts drove the country into a deeper and deeper recession.
It was programs like SNAP (previously known as Food Stamps) that saved the American economy. Stimulus bills passed by other nations during the same period also kept their economies afloat. Despite this information being well-known now, policies like the $1,200 stimulus and the $600 unemployment checks have been a struggle to implement politically.
This is not a defect of the social safety net. This is the system working as intended.
The Importance of Welfare Systems
Welfare systems are an overwhelming positive, providing people with security they may not have received otherwise, but unfortunately, people have little direct say in how the money is spent. While it is true that we elect the representatives who vote on budgetary matters, House seats are competitive because of gerrymandering and the desire of the political establishment for corporate-friendly politicians.
On top of this, it is repeatedly shown that the wealthy hold an outside influence on funding the welfare system, which is why the constant tax cuts have been so deadly for working people. All of this creates a negative feedback loop where wealthy people funnel their tax cuts into lobbying and donations that make sure that future politicians will continue to cut the taxes, further draining money out of the welfare system.
The past week has been a great showing of just how powerless we are in the matter of our own well-being. It took less than a week for Trump to threaten a veto and then sign the stimulus bill anyway. All of this is only a temporary measure as the government will need funding again and most people are still trying to recover from the last recession.
If the necessities of life keep getting denied, whether they be healthcare, shelter, or food, these moments of crisis will continue to happen. If we hope to stop the next crisis, the materials needed to keep us alive must be guaranteed as a human right. Until then, we are left to the mercy of wealthy elites and their politicians.