Why a stimulus package may not help this time – yet

The downtown Explore More Discovery Museum posts a closure notice. Many downtown businesses have closed due to health safety reasons during the COVID-19 pandemic in this photo taken on March 19, 2020. Photo by Holly Marcus.

A contributed perspectives piece by Sam Nickels

The government is considering a $850 billion stimulation to get the economy rolling again with a relatively small tax relief to individuals (mine would be $242/month, a mere 9% of my disposable salary) and $50 billion to the airlines. I’m not an economist, but based on my life in small-city America, it seems clear to me that there are problems here.

First, our economy has been brought to a standstill by a virus and the important public health approach to kill the virus by stopping social interactions. Since much of economic activity involves social interactions, and we cannot now go out to a restaurant or conference or festival, it follows that a stimulus is not what is needed now. In fact, it will be wasted money.

What is needed now? Compassion. We have to wait out the virus. During that time, many people will start to suffer. That is where our focus should be. If you are a landlord, find out if your tenants have lost jobs and give them a break for a couple months if you can (this is what I just did with a tenant who lost her city bus driving job this week). If you are a bank or lending company, if your customer has lost a job, give them debt relief or relief from fees (this is what our local energy coop did for those unable to pay temporarily).

After the coronavirus is on the downward curve, then might be the time for a stimulus to get things rolling again. But not now. The airlines should do the same thing—ask their lenders for a reprieve in terms, not a bailout. Let’s focus on individuals and families directly in need. Love your neighbor.

Sam Nickels is the executive director of Our Community Place in downtown Harrisonburg.

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