In the midst of one of the worst health and economic crises the US has seen in decades, Americans are just as concerned about getting help to the “right people” as they are about getting help in the first place.
A new poll of 1,164 likely voters conducted January 15-19 by Vox and Data for Progress (DFP) reveals an often-ignored truth: Sometimes the reason why politics don’t happen is not because of bad politicians ; It’s because voters don’t want it to happen.
In the poll, 60 percent of likely voters said they would support sending a one-time payment of $ 1,400 to most Americans as part of Covid-19 aid. This is great news – the $ 1,200 worth of stimulus checks last year showed that they reduced poverty and helped Americans stay afloat during the first few months of the crisis.
However, the same number (60 percent) of support means testing the aid, which is in line with saying, “Checks should expire based on income so people with higher incomes get less money.” The poll, with an error rate of 2.9 percentage points, also found that almost as many likely voters (56 percent) are against sending stimulus checks to undocumented people.
Voters may not fully understand the tradeoffs between means testing and restricting aid to undocumented Americans (namely, that many people who have financial difficulties can be left out due to poor alignment). However, the stance is in line with another DFP finding, the Matt Yglesias wrote for his Slow Boring newsletter that voters would rather let some doses of vaccine expire than “allow some people to line up”. In essence, this means that most voters would rather have more people get Covid-19 and possibly die than have someone get a dose of vaccine before they “should”.
The opposition to the wealthy who receive government funding and the hostility towards undocumented immigrants are not surprising, but these results show something very important: voters are so concerned about the perceived “fairness” of the economic response that this is is possible Hamstring optimal policy making.
What could this commitment to “fairness” have cost us? A lot of.
The cost of “fairness” in a crisis
In March last year, Vox’s Dylan Matthews wrote about why Congress shouldn’t put its aid to the test:
Do not try to test or prevent payments to rich people. If we worry about money going to people who don’t need it, tax the rich later when we survive the outbreak. If you need to do a means test, This plan was approved by Representatives Tim Ryan and Ro Khanna suggests a good balance.
Now is not the time for complicated policy making. Now is the time for cash in people’s pockets.
The argument is simple: America is in crisis and there is a tradeoff between speed and accuracy. Yes, some people who get the money can save it, they may not be harmed financially by the pandemic, and it may feel unfair, but it is better that anyone who has problems get the money as soon as possible when we slow down the process because of a mistake conception of justice.
Almost a year has passed, but the crisis is still terrible and is still moving fast. The US recorded more than 400,000 deaths this month, and Vox’s Emily Stewart reported, “The week before [President Joe] Biden has taken office, 1.4 million Americans have registered unemployment. “Biden has proposed a $ 1.9 trillion Covid-19 aid package to respond to the ongoing economic burden.
Means-testing proponents could point to recent data that stimulus checks for Americans earning more than $ 75,000 are ineffective – essentially arguing that it is a waste of government spending. As Matthews pointed out, the simple solution is to tax rich people later to recoup the cost instead of wasting time during a pandemic trying to devise the optimal program. Furthermore, we only have this data in retrospect – at the time it was not clear where the dividing line between “affected by the pandemic” and “not affected” was.
In addition, there is a real cost to trying to be fair this way. Take the U.S.-born or naturalized citizens who share a household with non-immigrant family members. Although they would have qualified for allowance themselves based on the way the CARES Act was drafted, they were expelled because they lived in a mixed status household. As Vox’s Nicole Narea reported in May that “an estimated 16.7 million people living in mixed-status households nationwide, including 8.2 million US-born or naturalized citizens,” were at risk of not receiving their economic stimulus.
In the second stimulus package, passed in late 2020, Congress attempted to correct this by “giving mixed status households and undocumented family members the opportunity to receive stimulus reviews denied … in the spring,” CBS reported News. It also made the CARES Act incentive retroactive, but there could be millions of families for whom it is too late. (Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion proposal is also intended to ensure that mixed-status households receive aid, although he did not suggest giving the benefit to undocumented immigrants.)
To some, having documented American earnings below $ 75,000 in favor of means testing and excluding undocumented individuals during a crisis may make individual sense to some. From a humanitarian perspective, undocumented immigrants, who have been disproportionately affected by the crisis and make up a large part of the country’s essential workforce, deserve help. From a purely selfish point of view, however, it also makes sense for other Americans to support direct aid: Financial instability among groups living on the fringes of society affects everyone – recent studies have shown evictions and homelessness increase the rate of infection for the community, not just those in crisis.
A silver lining in the poll is that 51 percent of Americans are in favor of automatic stabilizers that “automatically trigger more spending on programs like unemployment insurance or SNAP when the economy shrinks.” It’s something that Biden has signaled its support for that could help the nation not waste precious time the next time a recession hits.
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