What if someone were to deposit $1,200 in your bank account for free? How about $600 more 10 months later? You heard right. You get it for free, but hold on. What about $1,400 just three months after that?
Oh wait, the government did. That is if you met the eligibility requirements.
The recent stimulus packages have benefited millions of people throughout the United States that have struggled to pay for meals, rent or other bills. While we should be grateful for the boost these checks have offered, it’s important that we question what economic or political consequences they may have on our country. This goes for all political, social and economic issues.
On March 10, President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 bill, the “American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.” This sent the third round of stimulus checks to millions of qualifying Americans in an effort to boost the economy and lift those who may still be struggling for air in a metaphorically flooding economy.
“This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation — the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going — a fighting chance,” Biden said in an official White House statement.
In the same statement, Biden said the bill will also be applied to small businesses and to “providing food and nutrition assistance,” among other philanthropic efforts. Most citizens can agree that offering aid to Americans in a time of financial difficulty is a positive act. But do we accept these statements at face value, or do we question these claims?
When COVID-19 surged in March of 2020, national unemployment rates dramatically spiked from 4.4% to a massive 14.8%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This was around five percentage points higher than the country’s previous worst unemployment rate — 10% in October 2009 during the Great Recession.
Idaho was no different. In April 2020, Idaho reported 11.6%, or a little over 100,000 residents, as unemployed. That’s over 100,000 people with rent to pay, food to buy, and families to provide for.
However, the national unemployment rate has lowered dramatically in the past few months. As of February, it significantly lowered to 6.2%, and Idaho’s rate dropped to 3.3%.
Because of this positive change, some economists and politicians are asking, ‘What is the necessity of another trillion-dollar stimulus package when the economy is already on the rise?’ along with other explorative questions.
On all political and economic topics, opinions from the left and the right come together in a clashing mess of sparks. We’re all correct in our own heads, right? So why should we hear the other side? Their beliefs are obviously misguided.
This isn’t true, but it’s what society has drilled into our brains and it’s a tough paradigm to shift away from.
We can begin to shift our mindset by stepping away from what Sen. Ron Nate and Quinn Peterson, Executive Director of Downtown Provo Inc., called the “bumper sticker” philosophy. The bumper sticker philosophy refers to complex political, social, or economic issues being condensed into bite-sized posts on social media, generally simplified to one sentence, phrase, or meme. This causes the topic to be extremely polarized. Multiple viewpoints, facts and statistics can’t be adequately explored from a simple Twitter post.
$1,400 isn’t as simple as a free check with no strings attached. The physical bill for the “American Rescue Plan Act of 2021” is 242 pages long with about six pages listing the Table of Contents of the bill.
The bumper sticker: $1,400.
The complex issue at hand: the lengthy contents and implications of the bill.
My purpose isn’t to convince you that the recent stimulus package is America’s best gift or its worst poison.
My goal is to help you understand the importance of basing your beliefs on facts, statistics and research rather than on “bumper sticker” ideas. We’ll just use the stimulus package as an example of how to dive into complicated issues.
Read the fine print.
Or at least some of it.
Peterson shared that when George Floyd was murdered, the Provo Police orchestrated sit-down meetings with the community to listen to and address concerns with Provo residents about issues around the topic of police brutality. It was meant to be a safe place for discussion regarding a sensitive topic.
Peterson went to one of the meetings, participating in those difficult conversations. He walked away feeling like he’d received answers to some of his questions. When he tried to share his experience with friends, he was surprised at how defensive they became.
When he received this pushback, he said to them, “Well hold on, what do you know about this issue? Why don’t you go to one of these meetings and express these concerns so they can give you an answer?” He said his friends responded that they were too busy and didn’t have time to attend the meetings.
“The opportunities to critically think and get other sides are there,” Peterson said in an interview with Scroll. “We just need people to take the time to check it out. Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier for us to stay in our embraced echo-chamber than it is to venture out into these uncomfortable spaces, hearing what other people think.”
Reading the fine print about a topic starts with having an open mind towards it, understanding that we can learn something as we dive deeper into that issue.
This doesn’t mean we look at a Twitter post from Trump and a Twitter post from Biden, then say we’re balanced. That still keeps us in a “bumper sticker” mindset, the only thing that has changed is we’ve looked at a blue car and a red car’s bumper sticker. It’s still a bumper sticker.
JT Conover, a senior studying economics, said college students love to learn about entertainment, music or celebrities “because it’s way more exciting than economics, and politics are too contentious for them. A lot of people take the easy way out.”
Let’s look at the ‘fine print’ of the new stimulus bill by briefly observing arguments for and against the bill.
When the “American Rescue Plan Act of 2021” was voted for in the House, 220 representatives voted “yea” and 211 voted “nay.” All of the ‘nays’ came from republican representatives, plus one democrat. The first stimulus package, the CARES act, had almost perfect bipartisan support with all representatives in favor of the bill.
The recent bill will go to programs such as COVID-19 vaccine funding, nutrition assistance, humanitarian responses, aid for schools, increasing the child tax credit and making student loans tax-free through 2025. The first six pages of the bill list more programs that the funding will apply to.
Critics’ concerns about the stimulus package
— The bill has too many funds not directly related to COVID-19 relief.
“Only about 1 percent of the entire package goes toward COVID vaccines, and 5 percent is truly focused on public health needs surrounding the pandemic,” said the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget in a recent press release. “Meanwhile, nearly half of the package will be spent on poorly targeted rebate checks and state and local government aid, including to households and governments that have experienced little or no financial loss during this crisis.”
Some republicans argue that only 9% of the bill will be applied to COVID-19 related issues. With this argument, we should realize that ‘COVID-related’ can be subjective. The 9% previously mentioned is referring to things like vaccinations, COVID-19 testing and protective gear, according to Jason Puckett and Terry Spry Jr. with KXTV.
“More than 15 percent of the package — about $300 billion —– is spent on long-standing policy priorities that are not directly related to the current crisis,” stated the CRFB.
They argued that items in the bill, such as raising the minimum wage and increasing healthcare subsidies, do not belong in a COVID-relief package.
“I know there are people who will continue to need assistance getting through the final stages of this pandemic, which is why I have argued that Congress should have addressed their needs with a targeted bill that extends unemployment benefits, funds vaccine distribution, and increases investments in our public health infrastructure,” said Sen. Jared Golden, the only democratic representative that voted against the bill, in a press release.
Golden differed from the CRFB in that he supported raising the minimum wage, but believed many programs that the recent bill will provide funding to, in his state of Maine, don’t necessarily need the stimulus “thanks to the nearly $1 trillion bill we passed in late December.”
Benefits of the stimulus package
— The American people need the boost; the consequences are worth it
Conover pointed out that thousands of California restaurants shut their doors permanently due to the pandemic. Between 900,000 and 1 million workers from these restaurants lost their jobs, according to the California Restaurant Association.
“Stimulus packages are beneficial in keeping the doors open,” Conover said. “When a company goes under, they’re not coming back. If you can keep them afloat and keep the economy moving until the government decides that it‘s safe to open everything up, it’s going to be beneficial. You’re still going to pay for it, but it’s not as bad as losing your businesses.”
He said that the stimulus packages can be seen as life support for the economy. Nate agreed that the stimulus can make the recession less painful in the short-term.
“These programs aren’t free and we will end up paying the ‘bill’ with slower economic growth in the future,” said Phillip Olson, a certified financial planner, in a YouTube video by Two Cents. “But just like an emergency stimulant given by a doctor, they can be the difference between life and death.”
These arguments are starting points to the various nuances of the bill’s complexity, though they do just scratch the surface. If you want to dive deeper into this topic, research arguments about where this money is coming from and how it might be paid for in the future.
The information provided in this piece could not be explained in a 160-character Twitter post. A complex issue cannot be understood from a “bumper sticker” point of view.
We sometimes underestimate the importance of questioning serious topics that will affect the country and its people. The truth is, a few Instagram stories won’t give you all the information you need on a topic.
“You need to know that there are always going to be consequences to big packages like this, and there are always consequences to what they’re doing on Capitol Hill,” Conover said. “You need to know how it’s going to affect you.”
Email your senators. Read their press releases. Skim through bills.
With every topic you explore in depth, it’s possible you won’t land directly in the middle with your viewpoints. You may lean left and you may lean right. The importance isn’t so much in where you stand, but that you got there through intellectual humility and solid research.
Policies can only change if the citizens are informed, educated and aware about those policies’ contents and potential consequences.
Read the fine print. At least some of it.