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Doing it unto the least of these

Jessica Johnson on

Millions of Americans will receive vital financial relief in the coming weeks from the $2 trillion stimulus package that President Donald Trump signed at the end of March, and debate is ongoing, particularly concerning the unemployment benefits. There is unease among some economists because unemployment payments will be more than the income many people earned before the coronavirus outbreak. Democratic and Republican lawmakers, along with Trump, are anticipating that the 120-day expansion of benefits will be enough to tide working families over, as those who are unemployed with get an extra $600 a week along with their state compensation. Some people could be tempted to just ride out the four-month period and not look for work since they will be getting more money than if they were performing their jobs, but I believe that most who have been laid off or furloughed in hourly positions want to return to work as soon as possible. Not everyone wants to sit at home on the government's dime. Then you have those who are strong advocates for the working poor such as Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders, who argues that the emergency payments are not sufficient. In a recent interview with "Late Night With Seth Meyers," Sanders called for second rescue package. "If you're making 14 bucks an hour, 12 bucks an hour, and that check stops coming in, which is the case, how are you going to feed your family?" Sanders pointedly asked. "How are you going to pay the rent? We need another stimulus package, by the way, which addresses those issues."

If we have not "flattened the curve" for COVID-19 within the next two months or at least jump-started the economy again before or by July, Congress may have to seriously consider more aid for those in need. As we are navigating our way through this pandemic, much discussion has also surfaced on the class division that is being glaringly exposed. The Brookings Institution just published a report titled "Class and COVID: How the less affluent face double risks." The authors, Richard V. Reeves and Jonathan Rothwell, write, "People living paycheck to paycheck in service sector jobs are in a very different position to those working in salaried jobs they can do from home." Indeed, they are, and let's consider some challenging situations they could be dealing with. People who lost their jobs in the service sector industry could be diligently searching for new ones but lack internet access at home, which puts them in a tough spot. Libraries are closed at the moment. So are many of the computer sections in locations like FedEx Office centers. The temporary closure of libraries also affects the children of working-class families who depended on these facilities' computers to do their homework. Reeves and Rothwell also point out that those with more income can afford to stock up on food and other needed items as opposed to many who are hourly employees. And workers who must clock in do not have the benefit of social distancing like many of us who are participating in Zoom meetings from home.

Going back to the unemployment benefits resulting from the stimulus package, I hope that more people will empathize with those who desperately need this aid. Think of those out of work who were on the brink of eviction or foreclosure just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In a grave time like this, I truly believe that we need to have the attitude that Christ expressed in Matthew 5:42: "Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." I understand financial experts are worried that if the economy shows growth during the time frame of unemployment payments, and if many people then choose to live off their benefits and not return to work, markets could become sluggish. These concerns are valid; however, the dire health crisis that is threatening our economy is a precarious one that we have never witnessed. Getting through it is going to require much more than the usual fiscal metrics of analysis.

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Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at Ohio State University's Lima campus. Email her at smojc.jj@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JjSmojc. To find out more about Jessica Johnson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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