There is a Republican proposal by Ohio Senator Rob Portman to pay individuals $450 dollars on top of their regular salary to return to work. This is not a joke, even though it was hard to not to laugh at this:
One idea is a proposal from Sen. Rob Portman to provide a temporary $450-a-week bonus for unemployed workers returning to work, on top of their wages. A great idea! https://t.co/K4Au5c8PvG
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) May 26, 2020
Of course, Jeb! of the compassionate conservative brigade would be touting this. The very idea we need to pay people additional money to return to work for any period of time sounds more like something Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would propose. Except she doesn’t want people to return at all.
This is simply buying people off for living in the state of panic Democrats and the media have been selling. Getting people to return to work should not require an infusion of taxpayer dollars. And Republicans should not be falling into this trap. Instead, they should be engaging in an aggressive communications campaign.
Republicans like Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Representative Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) and Representative Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) have wildly popular podcasts. They also have significant numbers of social media followers. Combine this with the reach of the president and popular Republican governors and use alternative media to get the correct message out and encourage people to return to work.
There are existing systems and guidelines for employees being recalled. There are also systems and programs that would require slight modification for the relatively few individuals for whom returning to work poses a significant risk.
For the vast majority of employees 18-50 there is simply no excuse. Revised CDC mortality data and age-related hospitalization rates make it preposterous for the millions of working-age Americans in this group to balk. The hospitalization rate in this age group is 37.2 per 100,000. This is lower than hospitalizations for the seasonal flu in the same age group for the 2018-2019 season. That was calculated at 48.4 per 100,000.
Perhaps this is trying to rectify the problem several Republican senators pointed out when the CARES Act passed. The $600 enhanced unemployment payment allowed people making under roughly $20 per hour to collect more on unemployment than they did in wages. They predicted this would create a disincentive for people to return to work.
Perhaps they are correct. However, for the vast majority of working-age adults, there is an easier fix than shelling out taxpayer dollars. Stop the $600 payment. Virtually every state unemployment program calls for payments to stop if an employee refuses to return when recalled. Most employer policies have a number of days an employee can refuse before it is considered a voluntary quit.
The federal enhancement should absolutely stop under those circumstances even if the state is modifying its program. This would eliminate the financial incentive not to return to work. Whichever agency is managing the enhanced payments should immediately put the appropriate regulation in place.
In those for whom returning to work presents a significant health risk, the president and Republicans should be calling on employers to expand their short-term disability program to cover this. These programs require medical certification and job protection. It would give the medical and research apparatus time to find reliable therapeutics that make a return to work safe for at-risk individuals.
For employees who do not have an employer program, an expedited emergency SSDI application combined with an FMLA certification category addressing COVID-19 risk factors would be a much better option.
At the end of April, more than 22 million Americans were unemployed. Not all of them are going to be lured by an extra $600 for a short period of time. If the Payroll Protection Act needs to be modified to allow employers to hire new employees to fill their ranks to the required employment level for loan forgiveness, then that should be done. Employers will likely be able to fill their ranks with those willing to work.
The idea of floating more government assistance to encourage a return to work is simply preposterous. The fact that it is coming from the Republican caucus rather than looking for other solutions is beyond disappointing.
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