COVID-19 is a public health crisis, but it has rippled out into a severe economic crisis, too. The stock market has tanked globally, many local businesses are closed, and Marylanders are under orders to “shelter in place.”
To help, our elected leaders are giving money directly to the American people. Members of the Republican-led Senate, the Democratic-controlled House, and the Trump administration all put forth ideas for direct cash payments, ranging from one-time payments to monthly payments of varying sizes. Now, Congress is in the process of ratifying the HEROES Act, which just got approved by the House on May 15, amounting up to $3 trillion to rescue the economy.
“The Senate must follow the House’s lead and immediately pass the HEROES Act to ramp up testing across the country, support state and local governments on the front lines and get aid directly to families who are struggling,” said Democratic Congressman Anthony Brown (MD-04).
“I can be as much a red state person as anyone,” said Republican Congressman Peter King (R-NY). “But now we're talking about survival. And this is no place for politics.”
In the early stages of the stimulus package discussion, there were no fewer than nine proposals for direct cash payments. We’re encouraged to see the broad agreement that during a crisis, it helps to put cash in people’s pockets and let them spend it how they see fit.
When Congress turns its attention to the looming crisis of climate change, 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 must 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 giving cash payments to Americans, we can ensure a healthy economy while making a gentle transition to a clean energy future.
Here’s how: Congress puts a price on carbon pollution, steers our economy away from fossil fuels, toward clean energy sources, and rebates money as an equal cash “dividend” paid to all Americans each month. This empowers Americans to decide how to spend it: pay bills, buy groceries, save, invest, or spend at local businesses. Cash payments put Americans in the driver’s seat.
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. For anyone concerned about the “least of these” in our society — uniquely vulnerable to economic shocks and climate change impacts — direct cash payments are an effective tool to help.
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 will help keep our economy running. That's why Congress and the president have chosen to utilize stimulus packages in the current crisis; let's use that same tool to combat climate change.
Mark Reynolds is the executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Robert Ighnat is a Pasadena resident and a member of the Annapolis chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
Citizens’ Climate Lobby is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots advocacy organization focused on national policies to address climate change.