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Second cash relief round shows payment’s value

Tim Clancy

COVID-19 is a public health challenge, but as the pandemic goes on, it’s clearly an economic crisis, too. Americans are struggling with business closures, soaring unemployment, and the relentless march of bills coming due each month. Months of these conditions means many in Marquette and people across America are feeling serious economic pain. Locally, our restaurants, bars, hotels, and small retail shops, among others, have been especally hard hit.

To help, Congress passed an emergency relief package in March that gave direct payments of $1,200 to most adults and $500 to most children. In December, the House and Senate agreed on a second relief package that will deliver another $600 to most adults in the coming weeks.

During discussions of both of these packages, members of the Republican-led Senate, the Democratic-controlled House, and the Trump administration all put forth ideas for direct cash payments to Americans.

“We need cash in the hands of affected families,” Republican Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) said this spring. In December, Republican Senator Josh Hawley called for a direct payment of $1,200 per adult.

“An [economic impact payment] of $1,200, $2,400, or more can be a lifeline for a family in severe financial distress,” Democratic House members told the IRS in a December letter.

Mark Reynolds

On Dec. 28, our congressman, Jack Bergman, sided with all seven of Michigan’s Democratic representatives and 43 other Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives when he voted to increase coronavirus relief payments to $2,000. After his vote, Congressman Bergman said, “This additional support will help our communities through the winter months, which are already a trying time in the First District.”

It’s encouraging to see bipartisan agreement that, during a crisis, it helps to put cash in people’s pockets and let them spend it as they see fit.

When the incoming Congress turns its attention to climate change–another looming crisis–it should not forget this lesson: Direct cash payments are a simple, transparent, and fair way to support Americans when economic winds are shifting.

Climate change demands that we stop emitting greenhouse gases, which are trapping excess heat in our atmosphere and upsetting our planet’s delicate balance. America needs to move from a fossil fuel-based economy to a clean energy economy. That will be a major change, but it should not be an acute crisis like we’re in now. By planning to give cash payments to Americans, we can ensure a healthy economy while making a gentle transition to a clean energy future.

Here’s how: Congress could put a price on carbon pollution, driving our economy away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy sources, and it could rebate that money as an equal cash payment, or “dividend,” to all Americans each month.

Cash payments put Americans in the driver’s seat because they are empowered to decide how to spend it: pay bills, buy groceries, save, invest in a more energy efficient car, spend it at a local business, or anything else.

This is especially important for low- and middle-income Americans, who might otherwise struggle with cost increases as we shift to a clean energy economy. When dividends are given to everyone, low- and middle-income Americans benefit dramatically.

Finally, cash dividends are transparent and easy to track, unlike tax offsets. That visibility helps people and our elected officials stay focused on the problem at hand: right now, the pandemic. Soon, climate change.

It’s clear that money in the hands of Americans helps keep our economy running. That’s why Congress and the President used this tool in March, and returned to it in December as the crisis continued. Once we’ve dealt with COVID-19, let’s use that same tool to combat climate change.

As a concerned citizen, you can do something today that will help promote the smooth transition between America’s dependence on fossil fuels and a cleaner energy future: contact Congressman Bergman and encourage him to work across the isle in Congress and with the incoming Biden administration on legislation that puts a price on carbon emissions, while at the same time paying a dividend back to American consumers. A broad array of economists who share a market-based approach to dealing with climate change agree that just such a policy would be the fairest and most effective way to combat climate change. For information on this policy, go to citizensclimatelobby.org.

Mark Reynolds is the Executive Director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Tim Clancy is a member of the Marquette chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Editor’s note: Tim Clancy is a retired English teacher with an interest in energy and the environment. He has lived in Marquette for the past 35 years. Mark Reynolds is a globally-recognized expert on helping disparate interests find common ground on energy, public policy and the environment.

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