COVID-19

Should the Fed decide who gets bailout cash?

Sabri Ben-Achour Mar 20, 2020
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The Federal Reserve building in Washington, D.C. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
COVID-19

Should the Fed decide who gets bailout cash?

Sabri Ben-Achour Mar 20, 2020
The Federal Reserve building in Washington, D.C. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Following uproar about bailout decisions during the 2008 financial crisis, the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act took away powers from the Federal Reserve that allowed it to pick and choose who gets bailed out. Now some are arguing those powers should be restored.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin believes the economic fallout from the coronavirus and efforts to contain it may require more financial tools than regulators currently have. He told ABC’s “This Week” that “certain tools were taken away that I’m going to go back to Congress and ask for.”

After the Great Recession, there was a backlash. People were upset that the Fed came to the rescue of some firms outside the banking system, but not others. So Dodd-Frank took away some of that power and created a new rule that said the Fed can’t pick and choose who gets help.

“Roughly speaking, they have to give it to everybody or nobody,” said John Cochrane, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. He said the idea was to prevent the Fed from getting sucked into the business of picking winners and losers. He gives this example.

“Suppose that airlines will get in trouble. There will be an airline bailout package, a populist backlash to that,” Cochrane said. “The Federal Reserve should not be the one making that call if it’s going to stay a politically independent, technocratic agency.”

Better, he said, for politicians to make those kinds of decisions. Donald Lamson disagrees. He’s a lawyer and an independent consultant who worked on parts of Dodd-Frank. Lamson said Congress went too far in hamstringing the Fed.

“This was one of the major mistakes Congress made,” Lamson said.

He said he’d rather have experts at the Fed decide whether a company needs help, and said they can do so quickly. 

Darrell Duffie agrees. He’s professor of finance at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. He gives this example:

“Suppose some individual nonbank were to get into serious trouble financially,” Duffie said. “Were it to fail, it would create a real crater on the economy.”

Under current rules, the Fed would not be able to step in — can’t help one company; you have to help them all.

“The Fed would just have to sit on its hands until this developed into a more significant crisis and multiple firms were in trouble,” Duffie said.

The new coronavirus and efforts to contain it threaten to take down industries and firms, and some will need emergency loans. The issue of whether to return power to the Fed is ultimately about who’s going to pick who gets that help, who’s going to hand it out, and how quickly can they do it.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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