End the gravy train and people will return to work.
Last week, I visited a local shop in Camden, Maine, that caters largely to tourists. On my way out, I asked the owners how they were holding up. They, of course, replied that they are desperately concerned about their business and are just trying to survive — like most business owners across the country right now.
The entrepreneurs also said they were having a difficult time getting their employees to come back to work because they’re receiving close to $1,000 a week for not working. It’s a confusing and concerning problem for these business owners because they took the Paycheck Protection Program funds that were supposed to help them keep employees on the payroll.
This is not a unique story.
Business owners across the country are lamenting that people are not coming back to their jobs, even when offered. For small businesses able to survive the quarantine, more will need to be done to get their workers off welfare and back in the workforce. It’s going to require thoughtful action from state and federal leaders, as well as strict enforcement of existing laws regarding unemployment benefits. Thankfully, some of the nation’s governors are making bold and commonsense moves to address the three-headed monster of a health crisis, budget woes, and businesses on the brink of extinction.
Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida, for example, made wise decisions early on to make sure nursing homes were prioritized for protection. He figured out long before the experts and the pundits did that long-term care units needed a different policy response than beaches. If Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York had taken the Florida approach early on, who knows how many lives may have been spared?
Other governors around the country made good decisions to help with the health crisis as well. Gov. Greg Abbott in Texas was one of the many who relaxed hundreds of regulations to help add to the healthcare workforce and provide flexibility during a time of severe social distancing.
With a flattened curve and the end of the health crisis hopefully within sight, many governors are turning their attention to the economy.
While these states loosen restrictions, our greatest challenge may be ahead: There are tens of millions unemployed, and businesses around the country are closing or just clinging to survival. Congress created this problem, in large part, by adding a $600 per week unemployment benefit on top of the usual benefit so that many made significantly more money staying at home than they made while working. This is the perfect storm for wide-scale unemployment fraud and abuse.
Additionally, most states’ unemployment trust funds are being drained at an alarming pace. Welfare dependency skyrockets as well, putting even further strain on state and federal budgets and driving millions further from returning to the productive jobs they had before the coronavirus and bad policy from Congress struck.
To address this crisis, the administrations of Gov. Kim Reynolds in Iowa, Gov. Phil Scott in Vermont, Gov. Mike Parson in Missouri, and several other Republicans are making it clear that able employees need to return to their jobs if they are offered back to them. If they don’t, they will not be eligible for unemployment benefits. Of course, there are exemptions for those with real circumstances that don’t allow them to work.
This policy is simple, and it isn’t new. It is already well-established law, but they are wise to make it clear the law must be followed in their states.
How these governors execute the details and make sure the law is being followed will also be critical to success. Reopening the economy only works if people return to work. The Trump administration has done their part as well, issuing guidance last week encouraging states to remind businesses and the public about this law, and giving businesses the resources they need to get people back into jobs.
While the opportunity for wise early action on the health crisis has passed, it’s not too late for governors around the country to step up amid the budget and business crisis. When we look back on this point in time, we will remember those governors who gave it their all to reignite our economy — if they have the courage to act.