Thistlethwaite: Kids can’t eat tax cuts
Children can’t eat payroll tax cuts when their school lunch programs have been suspended.
Making sure children and vulnerable adults have food security has to be a priority in any financial package currently being considered by the federal government.
Yes, we need a stimulus package to be passed quickly by Congress to deal with the COVID-19 crisis, but it must prioritize health and safety, not tax cuts, as the Trump administration is currently pitching in Washington. Indeed, a stimulus package that can address this crisis must prioritize compassion.
I actually debated whether or not to emphasize compassion in the previous paragraph, because our society has been, as I have written before, “systematically trained” to abandon empathy and compassion and to regard those values as weakness that leads to the failure to make “hard-headed” political decisions.
I reject that. For us to be a more decent society, even in the midst of crisis, our response has to have compassion as a central value. And you know what? It turns out that compassion goes hand in hand with practicality when applied consistently.
After food security, I believe guaranteed paid sick leave is another crucial compassionate and practical need that must be funded. Thirty-two million American workers lack paid sick leave. There are millions of low-wage workers in service industries who are especially vulnerable to the disease because they cannot afford or literally cannot do the “social distancing” of separating themselves from others. Combine that with a lack of sick leave coverage, and they can spread the disease as they try to come to work even if they feel sick. If the choice is not being able to feed your family or pay your rent, or both, you’ll work even if you feel desperately ill.
As the inevitable economic downturn follows the course of the virus spread, another crucial and compassionate response needs to be enhanced unemployment insurance to support workers who lose their jobs because of the financial hits taken by their sector of the economy.
Health care is a compassionate and practical response. It is amazing to me that it even needs to be said that all coronavirus testing should be free. Financially vulnerable people will avoid testing unless it is free. That only stands to reason. All testing should be subsidized, and the medical expenses of those who do not have health care coverage should be covered should they need treatment and/or hospitalization.
This goes hand in hand with funding increased capacity in the medical system, without question. The lack of investment in our public health system that has gone on for years is catching up with us. Invest in that now, and rapidly. It is ridiculous to greatly expand testing and then have no way to treat the most seriously affected.
These urgent needs must come first for humanitarian reasons, but they are also founded on sound economic policy as the Economic Policy Institute recommends. “Stimulus proposals should take into account the specifics of the economic shock they’re responding to” such as the industries where lower-wage workers predominate, such as restaurants, retail and personal services. The article also recommends funding the health care sector to boost capacity.
In contrast, tax cuts won’t address the actual needs arising from this crisis, the Institute article argues. “In coming days and weeks, many proposals will be floated that have nothing to do with the specifics of the shock coming our way. Income tax cuts, or further business tax cuts, or slight pro-business tweaks to the 2017 tax cut will likely be offered up. This is ideological opportunism that nobody should take seriously.”
I am recommending compassion and practicality instead of “ideological opportunism.” Compassion makes sense.
As a pastor and teacher, I often reference the golden rule as quoted by Jesus as recorded in the New Testament in Matthew 7:12: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
This well-known verse has a very practical bent. Another way to phrase this value that is shared across the world’s religions is, “What goes around, comes around.”
In an epidemic of this nature, you are only as healthy as the sickest person in your community. Droplets of the virus can be shared in any environment and these little droplets have no respect for class differences.
Compassion is practical and it makes the best sense for our society to reclaim this value in the midst of this crisis.
Let us become a more healthy society in terms of our physical as well as our spiritual health.
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is President Emerita and Professor Emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.
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