It is not “stimulus” if there’s nothing to stimulate. Most states have been under stay-home-shutdown orders for almost seven weeks, and only a few plan to reopen before mid-May, so the “stimulus” bills are really just “bridge” bills – constituting a combined $2.7 trillion bridge to an uncertain future date when 30 million newly unemployed Americans can go back to work and businesses can reopen.
Moreover, the bridge isn’t even fully built. Many citizens have not received their $1,200 “stimulus” checks, and many small businesses haven’t received Payroll Protection Program loan funds intended to cover eight weeks of payroll. Many never will, because the program is oversubscribed.
So a bridge designed to span an eight-week gulf isn’t complete, even as the gulf is extending to ten weeks and more. So “stimulus” is a cruel misnomer. Many workers and businesses will not survive or be able to revive. Connecticut and other states that prolong the shutdown based upon “an abundance of caution” are creating an overload of tragedy and danger instead.
For some areas, an extended shutdown may make sense, most obviously the immediate New York City area. In other areas, particularly rural areas where social distancing is inherent, it probably does not.
We should remember that the objective of the extraordinary stay-home-shutdown measures was to flatten the curve, not eliminate it.
Even in hard-hit New York, Governor Cuomo has acknowledged that the curve has flattened. The US Comfort hospital ship sent to New York City never reached capacity and has departed.
The spread of the virus has been slowed and kept within hospital and medical capacity, so flattening has been achieved, and extreme measures should be lifted – ASAP.
We should reopen the same way we shut down, namely here and there, based on conditions on the ground, except, of course, in reverse sequence, starting where conditions are the best. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of NIAID, and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams have said as much in White House briefings.
However logical, this may not be easy. As the crisis has unfolded, a natural and admirable spirit of unity has developed. However, unity should not be translated into uniformity. The nation is not uniform, nor are individual states.
The two huge regional compacts of mostly Democrat-run states controlling about 50 million Americans on each coast are an unfortunate development. They militate toward uniformity, and, worse, partisanship, and, inevitably, unnecessary bureaucratic delay and red tape.
The president has taken the opposite tack, late last month asking all 50 state governors to rate the risk in each county in their respective states as “high, medium or low.”
His focus on county level assessments is important, since there is as much difference within states as between different states. Connecticut is a good example. One county out of eight, Fairfield County, has seen about one-third the state’s cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The four relatively rural eastern counties combined have had less than 7 percent.
Eastern Connecticut should re-open sooner than the rest of the state – and soon. It should be governed by a different policy than Fairfield County, where, in fact, the curve has flattened, with hospitalizations down significantly over the last seven.
In the face of the unfolding economic carnage, it is critically important to re-open the economy as soon as possible. Areas fortunate enough to have low risk factors should not only be identified, but they should be supported with policies to protect them and to accelerate their reopening.
As a nation and a state, we should recognize that the sooner some areas recover, the sooner we all recover. Those first to re-open will provide strength to the nation and to states as a whole, and that strength, in turn, will help lift lagging areas, ultimately hastening a nationwide recovery.
Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo endorsed the idea of differing policies for different regions of his state. Nevertheless, Governor Lamont has not. Instead, he has just created another layer of bureaucratic delay and red tape in the form of an unaccountable, private committee, the 47-member Reopen CT Advisory Group including not a single member of the General Assembly, the duly elected representatives of the people.
There’s no need for a committee, much less such a huge unwieldy committee. In its first action, the group recommended and Lamont announced on April 30 a phased reopening approach, with the first phase starting May 20 with what board Co-Chair Indra Nooyi characterized as “baby steps.” May 20 was supposed to be the official reopening date, i.e. the actual end of the state’s stay-home-shutdown orders, according to Lamont’s April 9 pronouncement.
In response, Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, called Phase 1 “much too little, much too delayed – especially coming on the same day the consensus budget forecast is released showing a $7 billion deficit through fiscal 2023.” He repeated what he said to Lamont on April 9: “We want to see the Governor’s county-by-county risk assessments. We are unconvinced that his statewide one-size-fits-all policy is the right approach.”
Indeed, imposing a uniform statewide policy upon a state with such wildly divergent internal conditions implies that the nation and individual states must operate on a lowest common denominator basis, with a reopening of the economy anywhere having to await a simultaneous reopening everywhere. That would imply a very long shutdown.
Instead, starting individual regions as soon as they are ready would speed the recovery significantly. Again, in Connecticut, that means the four eastern counties, where the curve has barely risen, so no flattening has been required.
Until business re-opens, the “stimulus bills” are just “bridge bills” – if that, since even a staggering $2.7 trillion can’t span an expanding gulf that Lamont and other governors keep widening with their serial shutdown extensions.
The original version of this column appeared in The Hill on April 16.
Red Jahncke is a nationally recognized columnist, who writes about politics and policy. His columns appear in numerous national publications, such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, The Hill, Issues & Insights and National Review as well as many Connecticut newspapers.