Living with Risk Daily Briefing – March 26

Published on March 26, 2020 / Leer en español

Center for a New Economy

Edited by
Sergio M. Marxuach


Five things you should know today

1) S.B. 3548 – The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

After days of prolonged delays and tense negotiations, the US Senate passed the third economic stabilization package in a unanimous vote late last night. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass via an expedited “voice vote” procedure on Friday, before it is sent to the President’s desk for his signature. The 883-page bill is the largest government stimulus measure for the U.S. economy in modern history, according to the New York Times.

Rosanna Torres, director of CNE’s office in Washington, D.C., highlights several provisions of the $2 trillion package that will impact Puerto Rico below:

  • State and Local Government Relief Fund: Of the $150 billion appropriated in stabilization funds for local governments, $8 billion are made available for Tribal governments, and $3 billion are to be split between Washington DC and the five territories. The remaining $139 billion would be divided amongst the 50 states, relative to population size. In order to access the funds Puerto Rico must submit a plan to the U.S. Treasury, signed by the Governor, of how it plans to administer the funds and ensuring it complies with certain requirements.
  • Recovery Rebates for Individuals: Individuals are eligible to receive direct payments of up to $1,200 per person (up to $2,400 for joint filers) and an additional $500 per child. This assistance applies to those with an adjusted gross income up to $75,000 ($150,000 if married). Puerto Rico must submit a plan to be approved by the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, on how it plans to administer the funds.
  • Disaster Relief Fund: Increases the balance of the Disaster Relief Fund by $45 billion to provide for the immediate needs of state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, of which $25 billion shall be made available for jurisdictions declared as a major disaster area.
  • Nutritional Assistance Program: Puerto Rico typically receives a capped block grant (roughly about $1.9 billion annually) to run its Nutritional Assistance Program (NAP). Anticipating increased needs in the wake of this crisis, this provision provides $200 million in additional nutritional assistance through the end of the federal fiscal year 2020, to be apportioned between Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa.

We will be providing additional updates and analysis.

2) World Health Organization urges governments to step up efforts against the coronavirus

The Director General of the World Health Organization acknowledged the steep social and economic costs of the measures taken to slow down the spread of the COVID-19. However, he emphasized that nations that have undertaken these policies have “created a second window of opportunity” and urged national leaders to use it wisely. Specifically, Dr. Tedros recommended the following six actions:

  • “First, expand, train and deploy your health care and public health workforce;
  • Second, implement a system to find every suspected case at community level;
  • Third, ramp up the production, capacity and availability of testing;
  • Fourth, identify, adapt and equip facilities you will use to treat and isolate patients;
  • Fifth, develop a clear plan and process to quarantine contacts;
  • And sixth, refocus the whole of government on suppressing and controlling COVID-19.”

Finally, the Director General warned against the premature lifting of the shelter-in-place measures. According to the WHO, the “ last thing any country needs is to open schools and businesses, only to be forced to close them again because of a resurgence.” We can only hope the world is listening.

3) Science is powerful, but it takes time

There is a noticeable increase of frustration with the time it is taking scientists to come up with a vaccine or therapeutics to treat COVID-19 patients. This is understandable. But it is important to keep in mind a couple of things. First, some of the most brilliant scientific minds in the planet are currently working on this problem, but science takes time. We are facing what until recently was an unknown virus. And while scientists have some good hypotheses about how this coronavirus works, they are working essentially from scratch. Second and perhaps most important, as highlighted in this New Yorker piece, we may cause more harm than good if we don’t get the science right. Yes, people are getting sick and dying right now, it is heartbreaking and frustrating, but let’s be careful not to worsen an already bad situation by rushing to sell ineffective treatments or what is worse, outright harmful “cures” that make the tragedy worse.

4) The need for effective government

This crisis has demonstrated our collective need for an effective government in times of emergency. As David W. Blight, professor of American History at Yale, explains “facts and events are teaching Americans the importance of government.” Since the 1970s the prevailing political philosophy in the Western world has emphasized the individual over the collective, the market over governments, the private over the public. But this pandemic has called into question not only whether we got the balance right, but the whole wisdom of that limited-government philosophy, which weakened the American government’s ability to rapidly mobilize resources to face this emergency. All of which is rather ironic, since even hard-core libertarians agree public health is one of few “legitimate” areas for government to intervene. Once this emergency passes, it behooves all of us to think deeply about the capabilities not of the government we want, but of the government we need.

5) Leadership matters

It is common for social scientists to look down on “leadership experts” and on people who write or do research in the field of “leadership studies” in general. At first glance it is easy to understand why—a strong whiff of self-help banality emanates from entire field. But it would be wrong to dismiss leadership studies outright. As Gen. Stanley McChrystal writes in this op-ed for The New York Times, the survival of our society may well depend on the performance of leaders at all levels and sectors of society, in government, the private sector, academia, and non-profits. We ignore his words at our peril.

Quote of the Day

“Nations seldom listen to advice from individuals, however reasonable. They are taught less by theories than by facts and events.”

—Frederick Douglass

This is the end of today’s briefing.
Stay safe and well informed!