Author: Mark Reynolds and Paige Dedrick
COVID-19 is first and foremost a public health crisis, but it has quickly developed into an economic crisis as well. The stock market has been volatile, lurching in ways we haven’t seen since the 2008 recession. Community businesses are making the tough choice to close their doors, as millions stay home to try to limit the spread of the virus. As always, WNYers have proven resilient and warmhearted. Efforts from businesses like Oxford Pennants, Kabab & Curry, and the Grange Community Kitchen, and organizations like PUSH Buffalo have proved, again, that we can be proud to be Buffalonians.
But, even heroic gestures from our community leaders cannot alleviate the economic hardship many are suffering. Families in Buffalo and across America are feeling unprecedented economic pain. There is likely more to come.
Families in Buffalo and across America are feeling unprecedented economic pain.
To try to support people suffering from the economic impacts of the pandemic, Congress passed an emergency relief package giving direct payments of $1,200 to most adults and $500 to most children. Before they chose that particular path, our elected leaders considered multiple other proposals.
“We need cash in the hands of affected families,” said Republican Senator Tom Cotton from Arkansas, one of the first conservatives to call for this type of relief.
“So many people in this country are worried about what happens when their mortgage/rent/car payments/bills are due,” Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters posted on Twitter, calling for monthly payments throughout the duration of the crisis.
In the early stages of this discussion, there were no fewer than nine proposals for direct cash payments. There is obviously broad agreement that during a crisis, it helps to put cash in people’s pockets and let them spend it where they need it most.When Congress is able to turn its attention to climate change—an even more deadly looming crisis—it should not forget this lesson.
Climate change demands that we stop emitting greenhouse gases, which are upsetting our planet’s delicate balance.
Climate change demands that we stop emitting greenhouse gases, which are upsetting our planet’s delicate balance. Over the next 10 years, America needs to move from a fossil fuel-based economy to a clean energy economy. That will be a major change, but it need not be an acute crisis like we’re in now. By giving cash payments to Americans, we can ensure the health of our economy, and each other, while making the necessary transition to a clean energy future.
Here’s how: Congress puts a price on carbon pollution and rebates that money as an equal cash payment, or “dividend,” to all Americans each month, driving our economy away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy sources.
Cash payments put Americans in the driver’s seat with their own finances.
Cash payments put Americans in the driver’s seat with their own finances. We can 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 some Americans, who might otherwise struggle to afford the cost of energy and other price increases as we shift to a clean energy economy. When dividends are given to everyone on a regular basis, regardless of their income status, low and middle-income Americans benefit dramatically. Direct cash payments are an effective tool to ensure that economic justice is baked into an energy transition; they protect those who are uniquely vulnerable to both economic shocks and climate impacts.
Finally, unlike tax offsets, cash dividends are transparent and easy to track. That visibility helps people and our elected officials stay focused on the problem at hand: right now, the pandemic, but soon, climate change.
It’s clear that money in the hands of Americans helps keep our economy running and families safe. That’s why Congress is using this tool in the current crisis. When we’ve dealt with COVID-19, let’s use that same tool to combat climate change.
Mark Reynolds is the Executive Director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Paige Dedrick is a member of the Buffalo-Niagara chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
Lead image: Photo by NeONBRAND