There’s a reason individual stimulus checks are popular. They work | Monday Morning Coffee

March 8, 2021 7:13 am

(Getty Images)

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
Individual stimulus checks of as much as $1,400 could start flowing to households across the nation, including 5.9 million in Pennsylvania, with this weekend’s U.S. Senate vote narrowly approving President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid package.

The provisions governing those hugely popular checks are different from the aid package that Congress approved last December, as Vox reports. That’s because moderate Democrats used their newfound political clout to leverage stricter income limits with the White House. Even so, about 280 million people nationwide are going to receive some assistance, according to Vox.The U.S. House is expected to take up the bill this week and send it to Biden.

Progressive Democrats have argued that the payments are necessary because, even though the economy is starting to rebound, millions of people nationwide are still struggling to make ends meet and remain unemployed. That conclusion is buttressed by data showing that the labor participation rate is still nearly 2 percentage points lower than it was before the start of the pandemic, according to an analysis by the National Association of County Commissioners.

Republicans who have argued against the stimulus package, including U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., say the fastest way to get people back to work is to reopen the economy, as if that will serve as some kind of magic spigot that will prompt still ailing businesses to begin hiring again.

“The economy has come back. We will blow the doors off 3 percent growth and get close to full employment by the end of the year,” Toomeya millionaire, who is retiring in 2022, told home state reporters during a conference call last week.

Jobless workers demonstrate in Miami Springs in support of continued federal unemployment benefits in the pandemic economy. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

But as residents of Stockton, Calif. have discovered, providing people with a universal basic income makes both economic and moral sense. In 2019, a privately funded program began paying $500 a month to 125 residents in the struggling city in California’s Central Valley.

A new report on that effort, according to Bloomberg’s CityLab, is eye-opening.

Beneficiaries reported “less pain, anxiety and fatigue, and spent more time with their kids. But perhaps the most significant change associated with the program was its effect on their work status: Among recipients, the rate of full-time employment leaped 12 percentage points over the course of just one year.”“The last year has shown us that far too many people were living on the financial edge, and were pushed over it by COVID-19,” former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, said in a statement, according to CityLab. “[The program] gave people the dignity to make their own choices, the ability to live up to their potential and improved economic stability going into the turmoil of the pandemic.”

So, as it turns out, if people have economic security, they’re more likely to have the confidence to reenter the labor force; to spend time with their families; to pump money into the local economy, and to be generally happier. Which is the sort of the thing you’d hope for in a nation where the official credo encourages the pursuit of all of the above.

This approach has been floated in Pennsylvania. And more about that below.

State Reps. Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Philadelphia, and Summer Lee, D-Allegheny | Pa. House photos, Capital-Star photo collage by John L. Micek

During last year’s legislative session, as Congress began its deliberations on the first round of stimulus payments, state Reps. Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Philadelphia, and Summer Lee, D-Allegheny, proposed sending $250 to every state resident to help make ends meet.

“In the face of the COVID-19 public health crisis, many people find themselves facing wildly different economic circumstances than even a few weeks ago,” the two lawmakers said at the time. “People have lost their jobs completely or had their hours reduced, many families were already only a paycheck or two away from not being able to pay their bills. Now is the time to make sure financial relief gets straight to Pennsylvanians, in the form of Pennsylvania Universal Income.”

One year, and 524,000 fatalities later, not all that much as changed. Yes, cases are down. And the arrival of three vaccines is the ray of hope that the nation has been waiting for. But 10 million are still out of work, and the number of jobs in the economy is still 9.5 million, or 6.2 percent, lower than pre-pandemic levels, according to the analysis National Association of County Commissioners.

Far from being a drag on the economy, as Toomey and other suddenly deficit-disdaining pols are claiming, there’s a proven benefit to not only one-time stimulus payments, but also to providing them on a regular basis as a way of ensuring that people don’t drop out of the economy, further widening the vast gap between the wealthiest and poorest Americans.

And the argument that there aren’t the resources to do this simply doesn’t hold water. If a Republican White House and a majority-GOP Congress can sweat off deficit concerns to hand tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, the scale can easily be recalibrated to prioritize the Americans who need the help the most.

As I argued in a column last April, it’s simply about making the commitment to a government that truly leaves no one behind. The bipartisan popularity of Biden’s relief plan indicates that “seismic shift” in how people view the role of government already is underway, the Washington Post reported over the weekend.

And that’s what officials in Stockton, Calif. found out too.

“The data proves that, particularly in a pandemic, it’s not wise policy to make less people eligible for what we know is necessary and needed,” Tubbs, the city’s former mayor, said during a press conference, according to CityLab.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
In this week’s edition of The Numbers RacketCassie Miller takes a look at the respective tax burdens across the 50 states, and where Pennsylvania fits into the national picture.

LGBTQ leaders and advocates across Pennsylvania are asking state health officials to modify the demographic questions asked by vaccine providers to include questions about sexual orientation and gender identity, Miller also reports.

In the most Pennsylvania story you’re likely to read today: Officials in Pittsburgh did something measurably good by passing an eviction moratorium. Naturally, they’re arguing over who gets credit for it, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

You will be shocked … shocked … to learn that U.S. Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., split in their support for the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. Capital-Star Washington Reporter Ariana Figueroa has the details on that, and the rest of what’s in the sprawling bill the U.S. House will take up this week.

A bipartisan push could change how states protect wildlife, our partners at report.

Philadelphia’s newest school board member comes from a family of educators, Now, she tells our partners at the Philadelphia Tribuneit’s her turn to step up.

On our Commentary Page this morning, a SUNY/Binghamton scholar considers whether now is finally the time to make reparations to the descendants of enslaved people. Marc Stier, of the Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Centermakes the case for raising the minimum wage, finding parallels between the Great Depression and the Pandemic Recession. Americans are ‘functionally illiterate’ about their own democracy, opinion regular Dick Polman argues. And normalizing our relations in the Middle East is reflective of broader geopolitical and geo-economic concerns, a Lebanon Valley College expert argues.

En la Estrella-CapitalLa Guardia Nacional consiguió la aprobación para unirse a los esfuerzos de vacunación bajo una nueva ley. Y el Centro de detención de Berks puede reabrir como centro para migrantes solo para mujeres.

(Getty Images/Maine Beacon)

Acting state Health Secretary Alison Beam has said vaccine allocations to the Philadelphia suburbs would increase as the state’s supply increases, but did not say that their share of vaccine would increase, the Inquirer reports.
Young buyers have boosted Pittsburgh’s ‘booming’ real estate market, the Post-Gazette reports.
PennLive talks to the CEO of Harrisburg’s Hamilton Health Center about her efforts to increase access to health care.
Two DeSales University graduates and one student were killed in a fiery car crash in the Lehigh Valley on Saturday night. Another student is in critical condition, the Morning Call reports.
A Luzerne County EMT talks to the Citizens-Voice about the toll the pandemic has taken on her and her colleagues.
Pennsylvania lawmakers are getting death threats. The York Daily Record explains how they’re dealing with it.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:


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A post shared by Knead HBG (@knead_hbg)

Four Philadelphia men have been arrested for making and selling untraceable ‘ghost guns,’ WHYY-FM reports.
Spotlight PA outlines the economic toll that a cycle of natural gas boom and bust has taken on one southwestern* Pennsylvania community (via WITF-FM).
GoErie takes stock of kindergarten enrollment in Erie County during the pandemic.
Retirees are helping out at vaccination clinics in Washington County, the Observer-Reporter reports.
PoliticsPA runs down last week’s winners and losers in state politics.
Roll Call previews what’s ahead for the COVID stimulus bill as it heads back to the U.S. House this week.
The U.S. and South Korea have agreed to a new cost-sharing agreement for the 28,000 U.S. forces who still guard the country, Politico reports.

What Goes On.
The Senate Appropriations Committee takes up the budget hearing baton this week. All sessions are live-streamed from the Senate chamber. The Independent Fiscal Office gets its turn at 10 a.m. The Department of Revenue and Pennsylvania Lottery defend their fiscal lives at 2 p.m. On the other end of the Capitol, the House Children & Youth Committee meets at 1 p.m. in 205 Ryan.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Kevin Schreiber at the York County Economic Alliance, who celebrates today. Congratulations, sir, and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
We’ll wish a belated happy birthday this morning to the greatest single in the history of indie music: “Blue Monday,” by New Order got its release on March 7, 1986. And because it’s such a momentous occasion, here’s the 12-inch extended remix for the first day of the working week.

Monday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Carolina bested Florida 4-2 
on Sunday evening. The ‘Canes Sebastian Aho had a goal and an assist on the way to the win. Carolina currently sit in second place in the Discover Central Division, just a point back from first place Tampa.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.