Disaster Capitalism: Pandemic Edition
April 16, 2020 10:36 AM   Subscribe

Corporations Are Not Letting This Crisis Go to Waste As the pandemic wreaks chaos, corporations and the GOP are following the shock doctrine playbook.
As expected, there’s been plenty of profiteering. Private equity firms have pitched massive returns for investors by gaming the small business loans program in the federal government’s CARES Act. Amazon, run by world’s-richest-person Jeff Bezos, is rapidly expanding to meet surging demand while cracking down on workers protesting unsafe working conditions. (Bezos, meanwhile, has seen his personal fortune grow by $24 billion amid the pandemic.) Tech companies have swept in to sign lucrative telehealth contracts with all levels of government. [...]

The Trump administration, in the name of public health, began turning away immigrants who illegally cross the U.S. southern border, including asylum seekers. It also rolled back fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards for new cars and light-duty trucks.

The Environmental Protection Agency, run by former coal industry lawyer Andrew Wheeler, suspended enforcement actions against companies who don’t monitor for pollution during the outbreak—a policy that doesn’t include an end date.

The latest federal stimulus bill repeals transparency rules for the Federal Reserve’s meetings until the president says the coronavirus threat is over, or the end of the year.

Trump’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a bevy of policies to help financial institutions at the expense of consumers, including urging banks to offer consumers small-dollar loans with no interest rate restrictions.

The National Labor Relations Board suspended all union elections and finalized a rule that will make it harder both for workers to unionize and to keep the unions they have. Meanwhile, the Federal Labor Relations Authority published a rule that would make it easier for federal workers to stop the withholding of union dues, arguing it would increase wages.
PPE: Personal Profitable Protective Equipment
Unmasked: The Corporations Backing a Lobbying Campaign Against the Use of the Defense Production Act (via)
The Trump Administration has refused to make systematic use of the Defense Production Action to accelerate the delivery of needed medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) despite urgent calls from hospitals, healthcare workers, and workers in “essential jobs” to do so.

This policy decision has had a devastating impact on the health of low-wage Black and Latinx workers in particular, who are overrepresented in essential public, service, and agricultural sector jobs that put them at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19, and account for a significantly higher portion of fatalities from the disease.

While headlines have focused on sporadic jousting between the White House and some companies, the US Chamber of Commerce has played a powerful role in lobbying against deployment of this crucial policy tool. Many of the most powerful corporations that lead the Chamber have direct financial interests in how the COVID-19 response plays out. The companies – including medical manufacturers like 3M and Honeywell, major employers of frontline workers, and big banks – have the power and responsibility to reverse the Chamber’s lobbying agenda that prioritizes corporate control and profit over public health and well-being.
In coronavirus scramble for N95 masks, Trump administration pays premium to third-party vendors
Large U.S. companies such as Honeywell and 3M have received the biggest orders, but the Trump administration also has signed high-dollar deals with third-party vendors selling masks for many times the standard price.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded a $55 million contract for N95s this month to Panthera Worldwide LLC, which is in the business of tactical training. One of its owners said last year that Panthera’s parent company had not had any employees since May 2018, according to sworn testimony.

It also has no history of manufacturing or procuring medical equipment, according to a review of records produced as a result of legal disputes involving the company and its affiliates.
PPP: Paycheck Penniless Protection Program
White House says new small business loan program is out of money, leaving many firms grasping for lifelines
A new lending program for small businesses maxed out Thursday morning and stopped accepting claims, but a bitterly divided Congress looked unlikely to address that growing problem as the nation plunged into unemployment levels not seen since the Great Depression.

The Small Business Administration said on its website that the agency “is unable to accept new applications … based on available appropriations funding.”
Republicans Refuse to Assist State and Local Governments. Why?
Naturally the result of this is an insanely stupid fight between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans want to add more funding to the program and Democrats are fine with that. But they also want a big chunk of money for state and local governments, which, for some reason, Republicans oppose. But why? Why are Republicans against assistance for state and local governments that have suffered huge revenue shortfalls during the coronavirus lockdown?

It’s a mystery. Republicans have long been opposed to bailouts for state governments, apparently believing that recessions are a good opportunity to punish them for profligate spending. Or something. I honestly don’t know. But whatever the reason, you’d think a massive pandemic would change their thinking a bit. But it hasn’t.
CARES: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (for banks) Act
Some Banks Keep Customers’ Stimulus Checks if Accounts Are OverdrawnFinancial institutions can use the government deposits to make up for recipients’ negative balances.
The phenomenon is swiftly becoming a political issue, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin fielding calls from senators urging him to ensure that relief money isn’t garnished. Banks are legally allowed to withhold funds that go into accounts that have negative balances, and no specific provision in the CARES Act, the $2 trillion relief package that authorized the stimulus payments, prevents banks from taking customers’ stimulus money to cover debts.

The practice isn’t limited to small institutions. A Minneapolis woman said that she and her husband, a disabled veteran, had been anxiously awaiting help but that their bank, USAA, a financial services company that serves members of the military and their families, told them on Wednesday that it was keeping the money because their account was overdrawn. They had lost access to that account because they couldn’t afford to pay off what they owed.
USAA Grabs Coronavirus Checks From Military FamiliesThe bank, one of the nation’s largest, has told customers it would use the $1,200-per-person payments to offset existing debts.
USAA, the veteran-serving financial institution, took $3,400 in CARES Act payments from the family of a disabled veteran to offset an existing debt, denying the family emergency funds during a time of personal economic stress. Text messages from USAA customers show that this is not an isolated incident. In fact, USAA is using a boilerplate statement to respond to customer complaints about taking their payments.

According to the wife of the veteran, a USAA representative told her in a phone conversation that they “shouldn’t have gotten into debt in the first place,” and refused to give back the $3,400 CARES Act payment. [...]

In a statement, USAA spokesperson Matthew Hartwig acknowledged that “a stimulus payment could be reduced when we execute legal garnishment or lien requirements … a reduction can also occur in circumstances when the stimulus payment is deposited into an account with a negative balance.” Hartwig added that USAA is “continuing to examine ways to address such occurrences during this pandemic.”
Mnuchin Knew Two Weeks Ago That Financial Predators Could Grab Emergency Coronavirus Checks
“On a call with Secretary Mnuchin on April 1, Senator Brown raised the garnishment issue to Secretary Mnuchin, who at the time was not aware of the issue,” according to a statement from Senator Brown’s office. Mnuchin negotiated the CARES Act directly, and it passed a week before Brown confronted him over the garnishment issue. So Mnuchin claimed in this phone call that, a week after crafting the legislation, he was unaware of how CARES Act payments, intended to provide food, medicine, and basic necessities to millions of Americans in an emergency, could instead pass into the hands of creditors.
Glitches prevent $1,200 stimulus checks from reaching millions of Americans
Several million people who filed their taxes via H&R Block, TurboTax and other popular services were unable to get their payments because the IRS did not have their direct deposit information on file, according to the Treasury, companies and experts.
Stimulus Oversight Panel Has One Person Trying to Watch $2.2 Trillion Alone
On April 6, Bharat Ramamurti became the first person named to the Congressional Oversight Commission supposed to police the massive coronavirus relief fund. A former top staffer for Senator Elizabeth Warren, Ramamurti expected to have company -- the new law requires congressional leaders to appoint a five-member panel.

He’s still waiting.

As tens of billions of taxpayer dollars from the $2.2 trillion relief bill begin flowing out the door, Ramamurti remains the lone member appointed to the panel. With no colleagues, no staff, and no office, he’s had to rely on one of the few avenues he has to communicate with the public: his unverified Twitter feed.

“I’m eager for the commission members to be named and for us to get up and running,” he says. “In the meantime, I’m trying to perform some oversight and use what tools I have available right now to start asking some basic questions. Money is moving around in the blink of an eye and it’s not at all clear what it all means and who it’s helping.”
The next coronavirus relief bill needs to solve America's unbanked and unwired crises
The next coronavirus relief package will almost certainly feature more direct payments to families, but, this time, it should include provisions to immediately bring as many households as possible into the banking system. For example, Congress could direct banks to cash stimulus checks or receive wire transfers without any fees, even for people who don’t have accounts with them. Congress also could change the Community Reinvestment Act to include the issuance of bank accounts with no account minimums and no (or minimal) fees or revisit the idea of allowing Americans to open up checking or savings accounts at post offices. These proposals can get future coronavirus relief payments to families more quickly and, when this crisis is over, give millions the foothold in the financial system that they need to start building savings and wealth for the future. There is a lot of historic mistrust among immigrants, low-income people and communities of color toward the banking system, and just giving them access to accounts won’t magically waive that mistrust away. But it’s a start.
‘Disaster socialism’: Will coronavirus crisis finally change how Americans see the safety net?
In 2020, a liberal is a conservative who’s been exposed to the coronavirus. It was almost surreal to watch a suddenly kinder, gentler-sounding Mike Pence declare that “[w]hen we tell people, ‘If you’re sick, stay home,’ the president has tasked the team with developing economic policies that will make it very, very clear that we’re going to stand by those hard-working Americans.” Aren’t these the same people fighting in court to deny health insurance to hard-working Americans with other types of pre-existing medical conditions? (Spoiler alert: Yes, they are.) [...]

In arguably the most well-timed paper in the history of American academia, research co-led by a Temple University professor — and dropped by the National Bureau of Economic Research on Monday, in the heat of the coronavirus debate — found that the economic costs of paid sick leave are surprisingly low while other gains are high.

Temple economist Johanna Catherine Maclean and her two colleagues, using a treasure trove of wage and benefit data reported to the U.S. Labor Department from 2009 to 2017, when a number of state and local mandatory paid-leave laws were enacted, found workers in those jurisdictions took just two more sick days a year. There was no significant effect on business, and the researchers calculated the per worker cost at 20 cents per hours. But the workers were healthier and better off, and probably had better morale. And they weren’t making their co-workers sick when they could afford to stay home — even before the coronavirus reached America.

Maclean told me on Wednesday that “sometimes it takes a crisis” for leaders to see the benefits of something like paid sick leave, even though polls before the coronavirus showed roughly 75 percent of Americans support such laws. “We see this pattern,” she said, “where it takes a troubling development to rise the value of a policy change to policy makers.”
Nancy Pelosi Needs to Get Her Act Together
It turns out that Pelosi doesn’t want to have to call the House into session, partly because of legitimate concerns of risks to members’ health. But nor does she want to permit remote voting, for fear of setting a precedent once the pandemic is over—members not showing up because it’s more convenient to vote remote. [...] It’s not rocket science to devise a system for secure remote voting—the same thing Democrats are demanding for the November election, but with far fewer people. Nor is it rocket science to strictly limit the emergency rules, say for 90 days. [...]

The list of demands put forth by Pelosi and Schumer in their current negotiations with McConnell is also too feeble. They are mainly demanding more funding, which is good, but the convoluted system for getting the aid out needs to be reformed as well.

Congress also needs to drastically increase the oversight of the Fed, including statutory requirements to disclose names of beneficiaries of Wall Street bailouts, as well as the terms, which the Fed is keeping confidential. And Congress needs to legislate an oversight panel for the bailouts, fully independent of Trump.
As pandemic lingers, U.S. House looking 'very closely' at remote voting
House majority leader Steny Hoyer said none of the leaders of Congress want remote voting to be routine.

“But in an emergency situation ... we ought to have an alternative,” he told reporters on a conference call. “I want to assure you and the American people, it’s being worked on very hard.”

Leaders are looking at some of the technological ways remote voting could be done, Hoyer said.

But none of the approaches could be done immediately, because congressional rules would have to be modified and there would have to be agreement between Republicans and Democrats, Hoyer said. He noted lawmakers would also have to vote to bring about the rule changes necessary for remote voting. This would require more than 500 members to return to the Capitol, if both the House and Senate took the step.
posted by tonycpsu (61 comments total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
Great line up of links! One more to add: WaPo - Tax change in coronavirus package overwhelmingly benefits millionaires

"More than 80 percent of the benefits of a tax change tucked into the coronavirus relief package Congress passed last month will go to those who earn more than $1 million annually, according to a report by a nonpartisan congressional body expected to be released Tuesday.

The provision, inserted into the legislation by Senate Republicans, temporarily suspends a limitation on how much owners of businesses formed as “pass-through” entities can deduct against their nonbusiness income, such as capital gains, to reduce their tax liability. The limitation was created as part of the 2017 Republican tax law to offset other tax cuts to firms in that legislation.

Suspending the limitation will cost taxpayers about $90 billion in 2020 alone, part of a set of tax changes that will add close to $170 billion to the national deficit over the next 10 years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), the nonpartisan congressional body."

Also discussed here in Forbes
posted by Garm at 10:50 AM on April 16, 2020 [9 favorites]

"The rich are defeated only when running for their lives." - C.L.R. James

An iron-clad law of history.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:01 AM on April 16, 2020 [39 favorites]

Yeah, anyone who got a cash advance on their tax refund from their tax preparer is likely screwed because part of the cash advance process is giving the tax preparation company's bank account info for the refund direct deposit.

So since the IRS is now simply depositing funds into whatever account was used last year, the stimulus deposits are being sent to the tax preparation companies instead of the individual filers.

People who choose to get cash advances on their tax returns tend to be disproportionately poor and financially illiterate. So this is going to be a clusterfuck that will likely confuse and frustrate them and take months to resolve.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:05 AM on April 16, 2020 [8 favorites]

Glitches prevent $1,200 stimulus checks from reaching millions of Americans

Thanks for posting this. I wasn't aware that the direct deposits were supposed to be done yesterday, and having used TaxAct, I was in that position where they didn't have my info. The errors on their website seem to be fixed now and it let me update.
posted by Foosnark at 11:08 AM on April 16, 2020

A Primer on Disaster Capitalism, Our New Normal - In These Times Editors, 4/16/2020 - "When a crisis occurs, the private sector often uses it as a distraction to push through its own agenda."
How is this different from regular capitalism?

Arguably, they’re not that far off. Even before we had a global pandemic to deal with, capitalism had precipitated a number of crises—the housing crash, climate change, millions of people without healthcare, just to name a few—and the private sector has profited handsomely by selling their purported solutions.

But writer and activist Naomi Klein coined the term “disaster capitalism” specifically to refer to the way free-market fundamentalists leverage big crises to privatize public goods and services, which often increases inequality exponentially. Consider the massive school charterization after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, which has resulted in a two-tier system of education, or the privatization of the electric system in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, which may result in higher utility rates.

In the midst of a natural disaster, war or economic crisis, people tend to be focused on daily survival—which makes it easier to deploy these so-called solutions that would never fly in normal times. Klein calls this method “the shock doctrine.”
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:15 AM on April 16, 2020 [15 favorites]

“Coronavirus Capitalism”: Naomi Klein’s Case for Transformative Change Amid Coronavirus Pandemic - Democracy Now, Naomi Klein, 3/19/2020:
Author, activist and journalist Naomi Klein says the coronavirus crisis, like earlier ones, could be a catalyst to shower aid on the wealthiest interests in society, including those most responsible for our current vulnerabilities, while offering next to nothing to most workers and small businesses. In 2007, Klein wrote “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” Now she argues President Trump’s plan is a pandemic shock doctrine. In a new video for The Intercept, where she is a senior correspondent, Klein argues it’s vital for people to fight for the kind of transformative change that can not only curb the worst effects of the current crisis but also set society on a more just path.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:19 AM on April 16, 2020 [6 favorites]

My wife has a small business and our experience with the PPP has been pretty much disastrous. We bank at Bank of America, which initially said you could only apply if you had credit with them previously. Her business has never borrowed. On 4/4 at 9:30am they told us that they now would accept applications, which we submitted at 10:20am that day. On 4/7 at 11:00pm they asked for supporting documented to be submitted electronically which we completed at 8:02am 4/8. On 4/10, we reached out to our POC to confirm they had everything they needed, which they said they did. Today, 12 days after we submitted our application, we are informed that they have run out of money. Although her business has slowed down considerably, we will keep paying our staff with or without the money until we exhaust our savings, but the process has been pretty much complete chaos and disorganization from the outset. My good friend banks at Wells Fargo, which refused to take his application until last night. I'm not holding out too much hope for him either.
posted by Lame_username at 11:38 AM on April 16, 2020 [12 favorites]

Glitches prevent $1,200 stimulus checks from reaching millions of Americans

Not a glitch. If TurboTax/H&R Block/etc fronted you the money for your refund, then of course the IRS doesn't have your direct deposit information. That's because the money the IRS paid out didn't go to you, it went to your tax preparer. If the IRS did have your direct deposit information, that would mean Intuit and friends was just handing off your sensitive banking info to the Federal government for no reason, and then everyone would be (rightfully) pissed about that.
posted by sideshow at 11:48 AM on April 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

Yeah. All that magical "100%" help for small businesses never really materialized.

We got less than half of our payroll in PPP and the check still hasn't shown up. Most of it went to "small businesses" with outstanding loans owed to the bank issuing the check and then, ta da, right back to banks! Just like I said was happening. The EIDL program went bust immediately and we got $1000 per employee (which STILL has not arrived yet) and we were told there will be no further grants.

So there is no way small businesses like ours (and I mean an actual "small" businesses of under 50-100 people, not this 500 employee bullshit) are going to afford paying "12 weeks of sick leave" or keeping people on the payroll much longer. It's not going to happen. It's impossible.

Most of the stimulus was just another tax break for billionaires. And if this goes on with no real stimulus for actual people and small businesses — America is a depression, my friends. And then the gloves will really come off. Big companies will become even more predatory. And it will be enabled by congress in the name of "saving" the economy.

posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 11:53 AM on April 16, 2020 [15 favorites]

I am ever more convinced that the ultra-wealthy are the root of many evils.
posted by Ahniya at 12:01 PM on April 16, 2020 [19 favorites]

The Government’s Big Program to Save Small Businesses Ran Out of Money. Maybe Time to Rethink It? - Slate, Jordan Weissmann, 4/16/2020:
[At] this point the entire Paycheck Protection Program could probably use a rethink. The effort has been chaotic and confusing to applicants since it started. ... Some business owners have had trouble finding lenders willing to accept their applications, while some financial institutions have moved much faster to process the loans than others, meaning that getting approved for aid has been partially a matter of luck so far.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:17 PM on April 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

USAA Changes Policy, Will Return Emergency Coronavirus Payments to Customers
But there are thousands of banks. The Prospect has heard from other individuals who had their CARES Act payments reduced, and The New York Times reported on some of those stories today. Only a global solution by Treasury can ensure that the payments get into the hands of individuals struggling to make ends meet and afford basic necessities. A bank-by-bank or state-by-state solution will ultimately not protect everyone in time.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:51 PM on April 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

Thanks for marking all of this down. Remember Ceaușescu, mu-fuhs.
posted by Twang at 12:56 PM on April 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

when are we going to EAT THEM please i've been so patient
posted by poffin boffin at 1:03 PM on April 16, 2020 [52 favorites]

Meanwhile in Brazil the Bolsonazi has just fired his popular health minister after dispute over coronavirus response.
Mandetta has defended social isolation while the far-right president insists the impact of the pandemic on Brazil’s struggling economy is more important than loss of life.
# Capitalism Kills.
Like his hero to the North the Bolsonazi is pushing Chloroquina and at the end of last month probably became the first ruling president to have his Tweets deleted. Something that still has to happen in USA.
posted by adamvasco at 1:20 PM on April 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

Glitches prevent $1,200 stimulus checks from reaching millions of Americans

I didn't get my stimulus check, and Check My Payment said yesterday they didn't have my direct deposit information. I filed using TurboTax. Here's the thing: I did not, and never have used the advance return option. Also, I owed taxes for 2019, and the IRS had just taken over a thousand dollars in taxes from my bank account three days ago! Still no stimulus check today. My partner doesn't owe taxes or get a return, because they made a grand total of $80 last year. They filed taxes with TurboTax last month because earlier it was stated that you had to file to get a stimulus check, but had no option to put in their bank information (due to not owing anything nor being entitled to a refund). Check My Payment says their information doesn't match their records so they can't put in their bank information there either. \_(ツ)_/¯
posted by brook horse at 1:49 PM on April 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

Yeeeah, that Newsweek exclusive is a pretty hyperbolic headline with fairly mundane copy. It's essentially a description of the JTC-NCR, which always has operations in the DC region (believe me, DC/VA/MD residents are well used to all of the military flights that happen overhead), with some internal redeployments, because we're all on high alert. The implication that DC is ready to riot like after MLK's death and government executives may need to be evacuated is pretty racist too.
If anything, it's probably the top brass not wearing masks like Trump that are the problem, not the residents of the NCR.

This is a derail though. A bigger issue is the fact that FEMA is outbidding states for ventilators, which is just driving up the cost for everyone.
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 1:54 PM on April 16, 2020 [6 favorites]

Urban Institute: Where Low-Income Jobs Are Being Lost to COVID-19
The neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID-19 job losses are home to workers in industries like tourism and transportation, which are bearing the brunt of the economic shutdown. To identify which neighborhoods are most at risk, we estimate how many low-income jobs have been lost by residents in each census tract or are at risk when stay-at-home orders are in place.

Because the labor market is changing so rapidly, we base our initial estimates on weekly unemployment data by industry from Washington State, which is under a stay-at-home order. While every state is unique and some are not under stay-at-home orders, job loss trends for Washington are likely relatively similar to trends for the nation as a whole, based on historical data.

We will update our estimates every week with new Washington State data through the end of April. Starting in early May, we will update estimates every month with national unemployment numbers from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:02 PM on April 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

The word missing from the tags is corruption. At massive scale. Hence only a trickle is reaching beneficiaries. You see this all the time with aid money in Africa.
posted by Mrs Potato at 2:44 PM on April 16, 2020 [11 favorites]

As someone in this world, let me tell you that the lobbying groups are astoundingly active right now. At least a doubling of efforts. Some of them had responses and proposed legislation to us so quickly it was a little suspicious.
posted by kinsey at 2:47 PM on April 16, 2020 [16 favorites]

> The word missing from the tags is corruption.

posted by tonycpsu at 2:54 PM on April 16, 2020 [8 favorites]

Small wonder the less lucky millennials are losing hope.
posted by Jacen at 3:17 PM on April 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

I’m still getting the “no information available” from the site. We haven’t filed this year yet and last year we had no payment due to tax debt, but it’s like they have nothing on us, and we could really, really use the money. And of course there’s no actual way to get information otherwise.

Do I need to call my Congressbeings or something just to get an actual answer?
posted by mephron at 4:12 PM on April 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

I applied weeks ago for the EIDL money and the first day the PPP was available at my bank, and haven’t heard anything at all.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 4:47 PM on April 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm still running payroll out of my own savings because I'm not a fucking monster.

That's basically what we are doing. Since we had a very good year up 'till now want to keep our employees going and we're lucky that we can for a little while.

I have bills too. Not the least of which is mother in law who is in an $8000 dollar month care facility and who decided last week to have a heart attack.

I haven't drawn a paycheck in almost two months just to keep people who have worked with us for over decade going. Luckily my siblings and I had some income from two small rental properties (one small commercial space and one home with a small attached apartment), but we let that slide for the the last two months as well. That can't go on for ever. If worse comes to worse we could maybe sell those. But for pretty much nothing in this predators market. And that's putting people on the street. So that is not ideal for anyone.

It's a shit show.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 4:51 PM on April 16, 2020 [6 favorites]

Small wonder the less lucky millennials are losing hope.

Gen Xers too. (At least this one!) Plus we have the exciting new twist of being considered too old.
posted by SisterHavana at 5:32 PM on April 16, 2020 [24 favorites]

Plus we have the exciting new twist of being considered too old.

Exactly. When the country may end up 25% unemployed, I’m not sure what a great advantage being over 45 and competing for jobs with 25 year olds would be?

And hey. The olds have the fun of losing all our savings and retirement and less time earning it back before health insurance plans dump us for being old and expensive.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 6:44 PM on April 16, 2020 [11 favorites]

The word missing from the tags is corruption. At massive scale. Hence only a trickle is reaching beneficiaries. You see this all the time with aid money in Africa.

Corruption implies that a select, wicked few are subverting the system.

Unfortunately for the 99% of us, the system (capitalism) is at its very apex of power and it is working as intended.

My only hope is that this pandemic can jolt enough people awake to realize that this system is going to kill us all and must be stopped.
posted by Ouverture at 7:04 PM on April 16, 2020 [6 favorites]

I'm still running payroll out of my own savings because I'm not a fucking monster.

That's basically what we are doing. Since we had a very good year up 'till now want to keep our employees going and we're lucky that we can for a little while

As an employee of a tiny business (currently the owner, me, a part time bookkeeper/office manager & a part time maintenance guy) I fully appreciate and support your position.

OTOH, it might be worth looking into what kind of unemployment benefits your employees could claim. I believe a lot of state websites have benefit estimate calculators if you want to get an idea of what sort of money your employees could get, and one of the relief packages extends benefits by 13 weeks, allows 1099 contractors to claim, and adds $600/week (through July, I think) on top of whatever they would qualify for.

Obviously how well this works depends on your company set up, your employee's pay, and your state's unemployment system. And of course UI is absolutely swamped right now, I would assume at least 3 weeks before any of your people start getting money. But once it became clear that we were heading for a shutdown, me & the company owner & bookkeeper sat down and ran the numbers and it was immediately clear that we would all be able to personally survive on unemployment money (especially once the $600 was announced), and the company could use whatever was in the coffers or trickling in to pay unavoidable overheard costs and do things like pre-pay/continue health insurance. (And as things have developed, a lot of what we assumed was "unavoidable" overhead has turned out not to be, as various creditors/utilities/etc. have agreed to defer or eliminate payments or late fees or whatever.)

IOW, as an employee, it seemed a better idea for me to claim benefits I am thoroughly entitled to and have a company to come back to rather than have the company slowly wither and die in an attempt to keep me on the payroll. (Which the owner would have done, if push came to shove.)
posted by soundguy99 at 3:56 AM on April 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

I said the stimulus bill was shamefully inadequate when it passed but was assured that it would do great things for those who needed it and would swiftly be followed by another phase of relief. All this makes me so heartsick.

Wonderful and incredibly depressing collection of links, tonycpsu.
posted by Gadarene at 7:34 AM on April 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

Paul Krugman, NYT: Starve the Beast, Feed the DepressionAnti-government ideology is crippling pandemic policy.
Right now the economy is in the equivalent of a medically induced coma, with whole sectors shut down to limit social contact and hence slow the spread of the coronavirus. We can’t bring the economy out of this coma until, at minimum, we have sharply reduced the rate of new infections and dramatically increased testing so that we can quickly respond to any new outbreaks. [...]

So we need another large relief package, targeted at these gaps. Where would the money come from? Just borrow it. Right now, the economy is awash in excess savings with nowhere to go. The interest rate on inflation-protected federal bonds is minus 0.56 percent; in effect, investors are willing to pay our government to make use of their money. Financing economic relief just isn’t a problem.

Yet at the moment further relief legislation is stalled. And let’s be clear: Republicans are responsible for the impasse.
Ian Millhiser, Vox: A Texas court battle could decide if millions are disenfranchised during the pandemicThe state attorney general is literally threatening criminal prosecutions against pro-voting activists.
Texas’s attorney general, meanwhile, appears determined to fight for a narrow reading of the state’s absentee voting law. In a statement released shortly after Judge Sulak’s decision, Paxton claimed that “this unlawful expansion of mail-in voting will only serve to undermine the security and integrity of our elections and to facilitate fraud.”

In reality, however, the overwhelming majority of states permit voters to obtain an absentee ballot without having to justify that request. Only seven states — Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, and South Carolina — have laws restricting access to absentee ballots for people under a certain age, according to the advocacy group Vote at Home.

So Paxton is effectively arguing that the legal regime that exists in the vast majority of states is a threat to election security and an invitation to fraud.

And Paxton isn’t simply relying on phantom fears of voter fraud. Vassar’s letter — the one offering the attorney general’s office’s idiosyncratic reading of the state law — also claims that “to the extent third parties advise voters to apply for a mail-in ballot based solely on fear of contracting COVID-19, such activity could subject those third parties to criminal sanctions.” The attorney general’s office, in other words, appears to be threatening criminal prosecutions against any organization that encourages healthy voters to seek an absentee ballot.

In the likely event that Paxton prevails before Texas’s Republican Supreme Court, moreover, the stakes are simply enormous. If voters remain on lockdown this November, millions of Texans could be disenfranchised if they cannot obtain absentee ballots.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:14 AM on April 17, 2020 [5 favorites]

Why is Pelosi so deeply opposed to letting the House work remotely? I think I understand why McConnell hates remote work for the Senate, basically he's evil and the less the Senate does the happier he is.

But what has Pelosi so insistent that the House must either recess or meet in person and spread COVID?
posted by sotonohito at 8:25 AM on April 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

House Democrats Back Changing Rules to Allow Remote Voting During PandemicIf approved by the House, the switch to proxy voting would be the first time in the history of Congress that lawmakers could cast votes other than in person.
WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday threw her support behind a plan to allow House members to cast votes by proxy, conceding for the first time that the coronavirus pandemic that has forced Congress into an extended recess would require historic modifications to how the institution has operated for centuries.

The announcement was a stark shift for Ms. Pelosi, who as recently as last week dismissed the idea of remote voting, which would require a change to House rules. Speaking to reporters shortly after noon by teleconference, she said the issue was not yet settled — “It’s not as easy as you might think” — but made clear that she believed change was coming.

“Everybody’s working so hard on all of these initiatives, including on how we can come together, whether it’s by proxy voting or remote voting or whatever it is,” Ms. Pelosi said then. “When we are ready, we will do it.”
posted by tonycpsu at 8:53 AM on April 17, 2020 [4 favorites]


And, after doing some searching I also found that there is fear the Republicans on the Supreme Court might rule that legislation passed by the Democrats via remote voting that Republicans don't like magically doesn't count because reasons.

I'm not sure I agree that fear of the Republican SCOTUS is a good reason to do nothing, but at least it's a reasonable argument.
posted by sotonohito at 10:14 AM on April 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

Seems to me that Disaster Capitalism is, at this point, indistinguishable from Disaster Fascism.
posted by JohnFromGR at 10:18 AM on April 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

The hangup is that a rule change would require either unanimous consent or else convening a quorum in Washington to vote. Unanimous consent can be prevented by one single asshole Republican out of 435 members. What are the odds?
posted by JackFlash at 10:21 AM on April 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

@RepSpeier: I’m hard pressed not to think that this is political. Blue states like California got a pathetic number of loans issued. Nebraska got nearly 75% of loans requested. I smell a rat with orange hair.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:33 PM on April 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

The state of USPS deserves its own FPP but until then, I think it's worth noting that there is very real danger that the postal service could be one of the biggest victims of shock doctrine crisis capitalism.
posted by mostly vowels at 3:08 PM on April 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

I would be very interested to see exactly which lenders processed the requests.

I'd also very much like to see SBA and Treasury's internal communications on the subject, because I'm fairly certain there is some fuckery going on that hasn't been mentioned that largely frustrates clear Congressional intent with how the program was to be structured which has caused it to "run out of money" prematurely...
posted by wierdo at 5:53 PM on April 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

Our small business got the full loan request of 60k. We have kept all of our 5 full time employees and pay their health insurance, for now. We bank with a credit union.
posted by waving at 8:00 PM on April 17, 2020 [5 favorites]

Those of you who have continued paying your employees out of pocket while closed, do the math on whether they would be financially better off collecting unemployment benefits. My parents were initially planning to keep their restaurant and store open for takeout etc., but it ended up making more financial sense for everyone for them to close. Plus everyone was super nervous about coming to work because the business is a couple blocks from an assisted living facility with a major deadly outbreak and the facility staff were regular customers.

If your state is lagging on issuing enhanced unemployment payments and you're worried about how your employees will survive those weeks, you can always give them a personal gift of cash. Up to $15,000/year/person is tax free. That's what my exhusband and I did when his father died and his small business shut down and we weren't sure if we were going to reopen it -- we gave each employee a weekly cash gift from our personal funds while we were deciding what to do. They knew we would take care of them either way so they waited for us instead of immediately seeking another job.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:52 AM on April 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

Mod note: One deleted. Quick nudge here, it's fine to offer "this is what worked for me" type info, but please don't put it in terms of "this is how it definitely works for you where you are, and what you should do." This is a weird unprecedented and fast-changing crisis. Circumstances differ for many reasons; e.g. unemployment claims are hard to file right now because systems are overwhelmed.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:43 AM on April 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

Shake Shack is returning its PPP Loan. Here’s why:
Late last week, when it was announced that funding for the PPP had been exhausted, businesses across the country were understandably up in arms. If this act were written for small businesses, how is it possible that so many independent restaurants whose employees needed just as much help were unable to receive funding? We now know that the first phase of the PPP was underfunded, and many who need it most, haven’t gotten any assistance.

Shake Shack was fortunate last Friday to be able to access the additional capital we needed to ensure our long term stability through an equity transaction in the public markets. We’re thankful for that and we’ve decided to immediately return the entire $10 million PPP loan we received last week to the SBA so that those restaurants who need it most can get it now.

We urge Congress to ensure that all restaurants no matter their size have equal ability to get back on their feet and hire back their teams. We are an industry of 660,000 restaurants with nearly 16 million employees. While it is heartening to see that an additional $310 billion in PPP funding is about to be approved, in order to work for restaurants, this time we need to do it better.
- Danny Meyer (CEO, Union Square Hospitality Group) and Randy Garutti (CEO, Shake Shack)
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:58 PM on April 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

Nope. They only have it back because they got caught. I hope they go bankrupt and I'll never eat at a Shake Shack. Now it the time to be watching which companies act badly and do our utmost to keep our money out of their hands.
posted by sotonohito at 8:59 AM on April 20, 2020 [4 favorites]

White House readies push to slash regulations as major part of its coronavirus economic recovery plan
Trump has discussed pushing a payroll tax cut, an infrastructure package and more aid for states and cities in the next negotiations with Congress, but it’s unclear how those talks will play out on Capitol Hill. By contrast, the regulatory rollback being drafted by White House officials is designed to be accomplished without congressional approval. [...]

The White House has for weeks also explored support for a liability waiver that would clear businesses of legal responsibility from employees who contract the coronavirus on the job, people aware of the effort said. In recent days, the White House has considered whether the liability waiver should apply to employees, too, for instance to include a waiter who fears being sued by a customer. This idea would require congressional approval, and its fate among Democrats is unclear.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:03 AM on April 21, 2020

Crony Capitalism: Why The Best-Connected Businesses Got Much Of The SBA Coronavirus Cash (Maneet Ahuja & Antoine Gara, Forbes, 4/20/2020) • "The paycheck protection program was meant to help struggling small businesses hit by COVID-19. Instead, a lot of the money went to those with the best relationships — not the neediest or most deserving."
[There is] a view that is widely held by not only disappointed PPP applicants, but also some lenders and savvy business types: In the rush to dole out money, banks favored certain customers, using Uncle Sam’s cash to shore up existing relationships with big clients. The rationale? Even if the loans were 100% guaranteed, it was better to deal with businesses they knew best.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban puts what happened neatly in perspective. It makes “total sense” he opines, to believe the allocation of PPP loans was driven by connections. “These are the customers the banks know the best and can approve the fastest, and most likely are among the biggest of their small business customers because that's who they would spend the most time with. Combine that with the fact that banks were understaffed and it was as much a race by banks to get access to a finite pot of stimulus as it was by small businesses and we get the mess we got.” [...]

None of this seems to be illegal — although some fraud almost surely took place as hundreds of billions were shovelled out at record speed. The inequalities result from the rush to launch the program, the self-protective way banks handled the application process and some questionable policy decisions by Congress. Now, as Congress is moving to reauthorize another $310 billion for PPP, questions remain about the most equitable way to allocate taxpayers’ dollars.

One key policy choice: Congress didn’t require PPP loan recipients to be directly or dramatically impacted by the lockdowns. That stands in sharp contrast to the rules it set for businesses wanting to qualify for the Employee Retention Tax Credit, a far less generous program worth a maximum of $5,000 per worker. To be eligible for that Internal Revenue Service administered aid, employers had to experience a 50% decline in sales receipts or show that their business had been partially or wholly suspended as a result of a government shutdown order.
In the end, someone needed to ensure some fairness, and someone needs to own the net effect.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:30 AM on April 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

White House readies push to slash regulations as part of coronavirus economic recovery plan (Jeff Stein and Robert Costa, Washington Post - alt MSN)
The White House-driven initiative is expected to center on suspending federal regulations for small businesses and expanding an existing administration program that requires agencies to revoke two regulations for every new one they issue, the two people said.

While the plan remains in flux, changes could affect environmental policy, labor policy, workplace safety and health care, among other areas.
Trump is putting the shock doctrine in action, using COVID-19 as an excuse to slash regulations (Laura Clawson, Daily Kos)
It’s not just immigration. Donald Trump plans to use coronavirus as an excuse to weaken environmental, labor, health, and other regulations in exactly the ways he’s wanted to all along. While the White House negotiates with Congress, including Democrats, over what the next round of coronavirus relief could look like, regulatory changes can be made without congressional approval.
posted by ZeusHumms at 5:37 AM on April 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

David Dayen on, among other things, the Democrats' disastrously weak "negotiating" on the next (and possibly final) relief bill:
By now I’m used to Lucy-with-the-football moments from the Democrats, but this one is truly depressing. Republicans made a big flashing signal that they only wanted to replenish the small business lending program. They proposed and tried to pass a bill that had only that in it. Democrats objected, but pushed pretty softly, assuming this was an “interim” bill and saving all their powder for the next one. Now McConnell is saying there won’t be a next one, not for a long time. [...]

What’s not in there: payroll support, vote by mail guarantees, postal service funding, expanded health insurance, workplace standards, rent relief, state and local government money, you name it. They didn’t even fix the thievery of CARES Act payments by banks and private debt collectors. All of that is put off to a future process Republicans have no interest in pursuing. The leverage is completely gone. Even Bob Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities doesn’t like this bill.

Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi has the House on virtual lockdown, with nobody contributing to this disaster. Pelosi and Schumer maybe like governing without those meddling elected representatives involved. This is a collapse of the Democrats and the democratic process. Pelosi is a lame duck, done in 2022. That should be accelerated.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:28 AM on April 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

do the math on whether they would be financially better off collecting unemployment benefits.

Just pointing out that unemployment benefits remain very much theoretical for many, many, many people. the state systems have collapsed under the weight of applications. people aren't getting approved and they aren't getting money. it's a mess.
posted by schadenfrau at 9:40 AM on April 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

10 April 2020: Trump administration pays out $26 billion in relief funds to hospitals Friday - Bertha Coombs, CNBC • "The money will help make up for lost revenue and increased costs health systems are facing due to the coronavirus response."
The government has contracted with UnitedHealth Group to help expedite this initial tranche of payments. Normally, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid contracts with several regional health insurers to pay the government’s bills under the Medicare fee-for-service program. UnitedHealth Group said it will be donating all fees paid by the federal government for the administration of the relief fund program.
22 April 2020: 'Never Heard of Anything Like This': Watchdogs Sound Alarm as Trump Puts For-Profit Insurer in Charge of Covid-19 Hospital Funds - Jake Johnson, Common Dreams • "It's simply bizarre and unconscionable that the Trump administration would have United manage billions in relief to hospitals."
One HHS official told Politico that "UnitedHealth was picked because it was better positioned and more cost-effective to get the money out the door more quickly than other options that we considered."

Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW), a government watchdog group, said Tuesday that the Trump administration's deal with UnitedHealth "raises serious red flags."

"In a rush to respond to the pandemic, we can't let ethics issues go unaddressed while taxpayer dollars go out the door."
18 April 2020: Trump team’s use of big insurer to dispense recovery funds comes under scrutiny - Maggie Severns & Daniel Lippman, Politico • "A White House economist with close ties to UnitedHealth is helping oversee a program administered by the firm."
“I’ve never heard of anything like this. The U.S. government pays hospitals all the time. Why would they need to pay a third party -- a for-profit insurer?” said Wendell Potter, a former insurance company employee turned industry critic.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:24 PM on April 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

For those who haven't seen it, a pretty clear explanation by Atlanta writer George Chidi of how keeping people off unemployment is one of Kemp's main motivations for reopening businesses in Georgia.

George Chidi's tweets (Twitter, threadreaderapp) go into more detail on how various budget and taxing restrictions helped lead to Georgia's predicament.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:29 PM on April 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

As coronavirus devastates state budgets, conservatives target public worker pensions
Apparently on the principle that one shouldn’t let a crisis go to waste, conservatives are using the coronavirus crisis to take aim at a favorite target: public employee pensions.

That was the explicit subtext of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s broadside against bailing out state and local governments, which he set forth during an interview Wednesday on right-winger Hugh Hewitt’s radio program.

But McConnell is not alone. Conservative commentators Andrew G. Biggs and Eileen Norcross wrote on April 13 that “financial support for key services such as health, welfare, and public safety should not be allowed to morph into a more generalized bailout of state and local pension plans... Any future federal aid packages that might be used to meet pension plan obligations should be conditioned on structural pension reforms.” [...]

The truth is that states are suffering because they’re shouldering the burden of fighting an implacable pandemic, not because they’re paying their retirees something in the mid-five figures. Withholding aid or placing conditions on it under these circumstances is nothing short of despicable.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:46 PM on April 26, 2020 [5 favorites]

Trump seizes on pandemic to speed up opening of public lands to industry • The Guardian, Jeremy Miller, 30 Apr 2020 • "Planned sale of land to fossil fuel, mining and and timber concerns mirrors rollback of Obama-era pollution regulations"
The secretary of the interior, David Bernhardt, has sped efforts to drill, mine and cut timber on fragile western landscapes. Meanwhile, the EPA, headed by the former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, has weakened critical environmental laws and announced in March that it would cease oversight of the nation’s polluters during the Covid-19 crisis.

The rollbacks appear to follow a playbook put forth by influential conservative thinktanks, urging the White House to use the pandemic as justification for curtailing, or eliminating, environmental rules and oversight.
posted by ZeusHumms at 3:43 PM on April 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Public companies received $1 billion in stimulus funds meant for small businesses
Research by academics at the University of Chicago and MIT indicates that the areas where small businesses have been most affected – New York and New Jersey, for example – were less likely to see loans from the program. The authors defined “most affected” using small-business employment data, cases of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and other factors.

According to the research, only about 15 percent of businesses in the congressional districts most affected by business losses were able to obtain PPP help; by contrast, in the least affected congressional districts, 30 percent were able to obtain them.

According to the research, only about 15 percent of businesses in the congressional districts most affected by business losses were able to obtain PPP help; by contrast, in the least affected congressional districts, 30 percent were able to obtain them.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:39 AM on May 1, 2020 [6 favorites]

Stiglitz & Co. on which post-pandemic economic policies actually work to steward countries into a bankable future. Even the IMF sees this writing on the wall.
posted by progosk at 4:06 AM on May 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Beware the Pentagon’s pandemic profiteers • Salon, Mandy Smithberger, 05/06/2020 • "Hasn’t the military-industrial complex taken enough of our money?"
At this moment of unprecedented crisis, you might think that those not overcome by the economic and mortal consequences of the coronavirus would be asking, "What can we do to help?" A few companies have indeed pivoted to making masks and ventilators for an overwhelmed medical establishment. Unfortunately, when it comes to the top officials of the Pentagon and the CEOs running a large part of the arms industry, examples abound of them asking what they can do to help themselves.
That is, in addition to the usual ways they've helped themselves in the first place.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:52 AM on May 6, 2020

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