Dhaka, Bangladesh
USA must take historic Covid relief decisions

USA must take historic Covid relief decisions

To address these urgent needs, Phase 4 must include money for the navy and coast guard to increase shipbuilding of sufficient numbers and quality to continue to allow for the US to operate beyond the second island chain in the Pacific and to address regional coercion by China, writes Ted Gover The June 11 Department of Labor unemployment report showing that an additional 1.5 million people filed for unemployment last week is part of a severe unemployment outlook in the U.S. that has brought significant shock to the American economy. Since March, there have been a total of 42 million lost jobs which is equivalent to a quarter of the American workforce and exceeds in number the entire population of Canada. Although Washington has poured $5 trillion of government relief to avert further economic damage, what is needed now is strong, sustained government stimulus and support for families and corporations. While President Trump has stated that the economy is in the beginning stages of a powerful comeback, likening it to "a rocket ship", the revival of the economy faces uncertainty and may well turn out to be a collection of w-shaped recoveries rather than a sharp v-shaped recovery. For its part, the Fed has indicated that the US economy will need years of support to recover from the coronavirus pandemic with Fed Chair Jerome Powell recently projecting a 6.5 per cent decline in GDP in 2020 while pledging that its benchmark interest rate, currently at 0.25 per cent, will not change. Amid this challenging outlook, American consumers will continue to need support for the remainder of this year and well into 2021. It is to the benefit of the country as well as to the 2020 electoral interests of President Trump and Congress to provide additional federal assistance for households and businesses in the form of a muscular Phase 4 coronavirus relief package. There is much that Washington can do to ensure that the recovery is lasting, strong and comprehensive. The next phase needs to focus on key areas like infrastructure, social safety nets, defense, liability shields for businesses, economic growth incentives, targeted tax breaks and the skilling up of American workers. Part of this will require focus by Washington to help businesses and consumers facilitate commerce amid the present angst caused by the absence of a Covid-19 vaccine. Phase 4 should not seek to put a band aid on the pandemic-inflicted wound to America's finances, nor should it seek to merely keep the economy afloat. Phase 4 needs to be a robust shot in the arm that provides certainty and confidence to families and workers over a sustained timeframe of up to 12 months. This must include a year's worth of direct support to families, extended unemployment insurance and forgivable loans to businesses that retain workers. Yet, the Paycheck Protection Program must be amended, lowering benefits to a level where it serves workers' economic interests to reenter the workforce when jobs become available. The changes to the benefit structure need to be done with care so as to provide enough money to cover expenses for the unemployed yet not in excess so that it forces workers to take a pay cut to return to work. Additionally, the Small Business Administration's loan program will need to be refined to avoid inefficiencies and the straightjacketing of businesses by forcing them to take back all workers who they no longer need, thereby hurting productivity. Businesses need to be afforded the flexibility to make decisions that address their new realities, and some companies may not be served well by being required to rehire all of their former employees. Relief to states must also be part of the package to ensure that local essential services, such as first responders, remain uninterrupted. Facing substantial tax revenue shortfalls, states and cities are encountering severe budget pressures and are in need of federal assistance. Part and parcel of Phase 4 must be broad liability protections to shield corporations, non-profits, educational institutions and houses of worship from an avalanche of lawsuits. Litigation protection is a must in order to provide more businesses and organizations with the confidence necessary to restart in earnest commercial activity in the country. Congress and the President would be well served to take advantage of this unique crisis and make Phase 4 coronavirus relief historic in nature. The package ought to include a substantial infrastructure package, providing $1 trillion over the next decade for a variety of needed upgrades that address energy; urban transit; rural & tribal reservation infrastructure; broadband access and 5G; roads, freeways, tunnels and bridges; ports and waterways; airports; railways; schools and hospitals. Thought and preparation will be required to ensure that the funds go to economically productive projects as well as to neglected communities that require investment. Additionally, defense spending is necessary for providing jobs and meeting the growing security challenge from China. At present, the US Navy lacks a sufficient number of vessels to address new areas of vulnerability resulting from China's naval expansion, missile program advances and militarization of the South China Sea. To address these urgent needs, Phase 4 must include money for the navy and coast guard to increase shipbuilding of sufficient numbers and quality to continue to allow for the US to operate beyond the second island chain in the Pacific and to address regional coercion by China. Additionally, Washington must reinvest in the US Air Force's aging bombers to maintain the deterrence and safety that US air superiority provides to partners in the Indo-Pacific region. Other needed areas in defense spending involve intermediate and long-range ballistic and cruise missiles to fill Washington's current missile gap with Beijing; hypersonic weapons systems; and the fortification of existing U.S. facilities in the Pacific.

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