The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is an important and urgently needed step in the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic, but more needs to be done. Last week, a record 3.3 million workers applied for unemployment insurance—and that is just the tip of the iceberg. The CARES Act includes crucial provisions for expanded unemployment insurance, aid to small businesses, cash payments to households, aid to states, and emergency funding for hospitals, health care supplies, and investments. It also includes half a trillion dollars for industry bailouts. The total package will provide more than $2 trillion in relief.
There is a great deal to like in this package, particularly the $600 increase in weekly unemployment insurance checks and the expansion of unemployment insurance coverage to many of those who fall through the gaping holes in our unemployment insurance system, including the self-employed.
The CARES Act, however, contains many flaws, largely left over from the first proposal put forward by Senate Republicans. First, the single biggest tranche of money goes toward industry bailouts without adequate safeguards to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used to save the jobs and wages of typical workers, rather than to preserve the wealth of shareholders, creditors, and corporate executives. It also egregiously fails to include explicit protections for worker safety during this epidemic in industries seeking federal relief. This proposal also repeats terrible mistakes of the past by not instituting economic-conditions-based triggers that ensure relief and recovery aid continue as long as is needed.
While the initial Republican proposal had no money for aid to state and local governments, this bill makes $150 billion available—a clear improvement. However, even this aid is insufficient in scale and requires too many bureaucratic hurdles. Future aid packages should dramatically expand state and local fiscal relief and remove unnecessary obstacles in the approval process.
Though the CARES Act will alleviate hardship for millions, it does not fully protect U.S. workers and their families from the economic consequences of the coronavirus, and it will not set the stage for the economy to reboot quickly once the public health crisis ends.
Further help from policymakers will clearly be needed and should address these urgent gaps in scale and design. And we should keep in mind that deep and permanent structural reforms are needed in our social safety net, health care system, emergency preparedness, and worker protections, well beyond the immediate crisis response.