A handful of Republican governors, including Louisiana’s Jindal and Maryland’s Sanford, have been hemming and hawing about accepting money awarded to their states by the recently passed federal stimulus bill. The main complaint coming from the governors is that in a few years, when the stimulus money has been spent, the states will be stuck with the bill to continue to pay for programs expanded with stimulus money. This argument seems to make sense; speaking about the need to enroll new families into expanded “Head Start” programs, Gov. Sanford has makes a decent point:
There’s no way politically we’re going to be able to push people out of the program in two years when the federal money runs out.
But most of the outcry and threats of refusal have centered on the provision that expands unemployment insurance to more workers (in some states, notably those in the South governed by Jindal, Sanford, Barbour, et al.) and increases the weekly payout to many supported by unemployment benefits. And while I can understand (more on this later) the hesitation in picking up federal dollars for social service programs, it makes no sense to me why assistance to the unemployed is at all a bad
thing right now. Unemployment and decreasing income are the main problems we are facing right now: this is what is bad about a recession. Unemployment insurance helps by supporting unemployed workers (and their families) while they search for a new job. This safety net keeps unemployed people healthy, confident, and able to focus on getting back into the workforce, rather than letting them become impoverished (which draws on more government services, and is antithetical to the ideals of our society) and perhaps dropping out of the workforce in general (overall production and income go down). More and more people are unemployed right now, and they need this support if they are going to help turn our economy around. Yet governors like Jindal (LA unemployment rate 1/08: 4.0%; 12/08: 5.9%) and Sanford (SC: 6.1%; 9.5%) want to refuse this aid to their people, in a large part because they are unwilling to accept that
the new federal standards would protect more unemployed workers than ever before and bring states like Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas into the 21st century,
according to a NYT editorial. It’s important to remember, too, that the point of the stimulus bill is to stimulate the economy – and giving people more money and a better shot at a job will hopefully go far to accomplish this goal. It’s certainly a better way to do so than not giving people money and handicapping their job
search. This same principle extends to the GOP governors problems with other portions of the bill: expanded programs now will hire more people (who can spend money in other sectors of the economy, encouraging business investment), provide services aimed at making the populace healthier and more productive to more people, and prevent people from becoming destitute economic dead weight. President Obama recently reminded stimulus opponents that
from my perspective at least, keeping teachers in the classroom is not wasteful; from my perspective, tax cuts to 95% of working families is not wasteful; from my perspective, providing all of you additional resources to rebuild roads and bridges and levees and dams that will enhance the quality of life of your state but also make it more economically competitive — that’s not wasteful.
Again, because this is the point that Republicans seem to keep missing: the stimulus bill is an emergency measure. It was proposed and passed because we are experiencing a sharp, global recession that will continue to stifle business and production in the US for quite a while unless we do something. The bill is intended to be that something. It’s true that some money for expanded programs may be going away in two years, but now is not the same as two years from now. If the stimulus bill works as intended, the economy will start heading up again: businesses will start opening and innovating, unemployment will go down, and fewer people will be at risk of dropping below the poverty line. Hopefully, in two years time, states will either a.) have made enough money from the increasing economy to continue paying stimulus-related social services, or b.) have robust enough economies that those services can be cut back without negatively affecting those who use them, and the employees of those services can find other employment.
As for right now, it’s irresponsible (and possibly illegal) for state governors to deny certain funds for their constituents in light of the current circumstances. As much as GOP governors may hope, prayer only goes so far, and it’s cruel to deny the actual money, benefits, and job opportunities that struggling, unemployed workers and their dependents need right now. For the sake of these Americans directly and for the sake of all Americans indirectly, we need to do what we can to get the economy going again. Allowing stimulus money to get to the states and start stimulating is a good first step.