When crisis strikes, we look for answers as to how to immediately survive, and then ask why this happened so we can protect ourselves next time. For future events similar to COVID-19, we know our country needs to be better prepared with supplies and have much better testing capabilities. We know nothing we do will bring back our lost loved ones. The economic pain will be as widespread as our emotional pain, and it will hurt as well.
I want to focus on that economic pain and solutions. Three months ago, before the pandemic, if you were a person working two minimum wage retail jobs and caring for your children, you may already have felt like each week left you stressed, harried, and on the edge. You were already working hard and living with a lot of worries, even in the richest and most powerful country on earth. And policy solutions to work with people in that week-to-week crisis were available then, for example, blueprints for workforce education where a person could get paid to upskill were there (same for housing, health and wellbeing, and other important areas).
In fact, Fahe has pioneered several of these approaches deploying on the ground expertise: One new initiative with Fahe Member Housing Development Alliance of Hazard, Kentucky, is Hope Building. HDA brings paid, on-the-job training to Appalachians recovering from the opioid epidemic, another very real epidemic that has not abated in Appalachia. Just like a good home is crucial to the success of a human life, so is a dependable, quality job. Paid HDA trainees also are receiving an accredited education and a verifiable work history.
A second example is Fahe’s Transformational Employment Program, which is workforce training education on the job. Fahe identifies area employers looking for talented staff and supports the prospective employees for six months paid salary, with additional monetary benefits and training for both employee and employer. In addition to this paid on- and off-the-job training and work history, employees also receive mentoring from a successful area entrepreneur who is recovered from addiction.
We could call these examples cutting-edge, because they are efficient and work in challenging areas. But it’s also elegantly simple to pay attention to what we know to be right: investment in our people and communities, intelligently and patiently deployed. The solutions have been with us, able to be scaled up to deal with the economic pain that will now engulf more and more of us.
Thankfully, the government is adopting this approach of scaling up proven solutions with hundreds of billions of dollars extremely quickly. For example, the recently passed CARES Act puts in place common sense Unemployment Compensation and a Pandemic Assistance Program, and incentivizes part time arrangements for reduced hours instead of full time layoffs. The CARES Act’s Unemployment Compensation pays people out of work a uniform $600 per week, in addition to unemployment benefits, for four months (and then another 13 weeks in emergency help if needed) and waives the week waiting period because it recognizes people are in crisis.
The Pandemic Assistance Program gives those who might not qualify for traditional unemployment a chance to steady themselves. Folks who have a short work history, are self-employed, or seek part time employment can receive an equivalent amount to the unemployment rate they would receive plus the $600 dollars per week. No one is going to get rich off this assistance, but it can put food on the table, pay a bit of rent, pay that cell phone bill, and put gas in the car for someone living an unglamorous yet real life.
This federal approach, expanding on solutions known to work, is good. Sadly the CARES Act also channeled hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to concentrated financial interests not struggling to keep a home and decent-paying job. That’s a sad story for another day, but today I’m highlighting that we do know how to make investments in our neighbors proven to work.
So let’s work together through the economic pain caused by the pandemic, and let’s remember people suffering in that ongoing crisis of kids at home and two unstable jobs that didn’t pay enough: We have proven solutions for that one, too. We know how to love our neighbor as we do ourselves through policy action in this time of great challenges. And then when the next crisis with an economic shock arrives, all of us will be much better protected.