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COVID-19

Budget cuts in a time of coronavirus

Jack Stewart Feb 25, 2020
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Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks during a press conference on the coordinated public health response to COVID-19 on Jan. 28, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Samuel Corum/Getty Images
COVID-19

Budget cuts in a time of coronavirus

Jack Stewart Feb 25, 2020
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks during a press conference on the coordinated public health response to COVID-19 on Jan. 28, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Samuel Corum/Getty Images
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The health and human services secretary, Alex Azar, will appear at four Congressional hearings this week, starting today with the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

He’ll be fielding questions about the Trump administration’s budget request, which includes cuts to HHS spending, impacting Medicare and Medicaid. There’s also likely to be a heavy focus on the virus that causes COVID-19.

The Trump administration’s proposal includes funding cuts for the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Right now, the CDC is in the spotlight as questions over containment of COVID-19 keep growing.

J. Stephen Morrison, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Azar will likely face questions about the CDC’s budget.

“Congress is going to say, ‘Wait a second, this is another instance of us being stuck in a cycle of crisis and complacency, or crisis and neglect,'” Morrison said.

He said there will be requests for more robust long-term budgets for key health agencies.

Chris Meekins, an analyst at Raymond James and himself formerly an HHS preparedness official, said that while the U.S. is the global leader in public health preparedness, officials need to be selective in their spending.

“To make sure they are prioritizing the things that truly are the highest need for the public, and not just focusing on science for science’s sake,” Meekins said.

Congress has previously rejected Trump administration budgets that proposed similar cuts. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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