What to expect from Biden on propping up the COVID economy
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What might be President-Elect Joe Biden’s early moves to help households get through the economic turmoil of the pandemic?
Felicia Wong is a member of the Biden transition advisory board, but spoke with “Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio on Monday morning from her perspective as the president and CEO of the Roosevelt Institute, a nonprofit, liberal-leaning think tank. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Emergency funding for state and local governments, small businesses and more
Felicia Wong: Right away this week, the Biden team is going to name a pandemic task force. And interestingly, that’ll be, of course, about public health. But it’ll also have a lot of elements for economic strengthening. The Biden team wants to make sure that we can produce masks and PPE domestically. There’s going to be a fund for state and local governments to prevent budget shortfalls, to help teachers, to help first responders, to keep those people employed even in an economic crisis. They’re talking about an emergency funding package for schools and small businesses so they can adapt to COVID. These are very immediate things that I think that task force will tackle right away.
Working with a Senate controlled by Republicans
David Brancaccio: But some of this has to be in cooperation — at least during the transition period — with the existing Senate run by Republicans. So can much really get done on spending stuff before the new Congress comes in?
Wong: Good question. I do think you’re going to see real efforts, very quickly, including before inauguration, on a kind of relief plan or a stimulus package. And I think that will include all of the things I just mentioned. It will also include stronger unemployment insurance. It’ll include an improved mechanism for helping small businesses, maybe through rent relief, maybe through more funding to keep workers on payroll. And I think it will also include funding for state governments and for city governments, which of course are under such crisis. That crisis, that economic crisis, is only going to get worse as the winter wears on.
Now, whether Republicans are going to come through and actually do this with Democrats is an important political question. But I think they are definitely incentivized to do that now that they know who is going to be in charge in Washington. And you’re going to see a lot of red state governors wanting that funding in addition, of course, to blue state governors.
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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