Five things you should know today
1) Correcting historical wrongs
Analysis by Rosanna Torres, Director of CNE’s office in Washington, D.C.
It has been two weeks since the third legislative package to address the health consequences and economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic was signed into law. As we’ve stated before, these measures, especially the direct cash transfers to individuals, are urgently necessary. But the socioeconomic consequences of the pandemic in a crisis-ridden Puerto Rico signal the need to address broader structural inequities that have historically placed Puerto Rico, and the other U.S. territories, at a disadvantage. Puerto Rico is, in a sense, a patient with preexisting conditions.
As negotiations continue on what should be the appropriate amount of funding for another legislative relief package, Congress must provide the island access to other federal programs that help historically underserved populations: Medicaid, SSI, SNAP and the EITC.
2) No agreement yet on providing additional assistance to small businesses and local governments
Senate Democrats and Republicans have not yet reached agreement on a bill to provide additional assistance to small businesses and local governments. The crux of the disagreement is that Republicans want to approve a “clean” $250 billion increase for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides loans to small businesses; while Democrats want to include additional funding for state and local governments ($150 billion); hospitals ($100 billion); and for increased payments under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
At this point there appears to be a lot of posturing on both sides, but the elements for reaching a deal are there. In addition, Congressional leaders have stated they will probably introduce a larger economic relief bill after Congress returns from Easter recess on May 4. We will provide updates as events unfold.
3) President Trump claims he has the authority to override state and local restrictions
President Trump claims, via Twitter, of course, that he, “not state governors, has the ultimate authority to loosen restrictions on states as the coronavirus outbreak eases.” This is no mere constitutional quibble for the law school seminar room. If the president insists on imposing his will, then we can expect widespread confusion as some state and local officials challenge the president’s position by taking measures such as maintaining shelter-in-place restrictions (like New York’s Governor Cuomo did this morning), while other officials follow the White House line. This situation could put business owners and operators in a difficult bind as they would be subject to conflicting legal requirements.
For what it’s worth, we remind readers that the general constitutional principle is that federal laws, rules, and regulations usually set a floor, not a ceiling. So, if a state desires, for example, to legislate a higher minimum wage, or stricter environmental protections, it is generally allowed to do so. Unfortunately, as reported by The Hill, we can expect “this debate will continue in the weeks and months ahead.”
4) The World Health Organization warns “we are going to have to change our behaviors for the foreseeable future”
In the meantime, while President Trump fights with his own governors, the World Health Organization warns that the lifting of restrictions must happen slowly. As Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, stated, “You can’t replace lockdown with nothing. You must replace lockdown with a very deeply educated, committed, empowered and engaged community“. Furthermore, the global health agency is expected to issue new strategic guidelines today for countries considering lifting restrictions. According to the WHO, governments should consider the following six criteria in their policymaking deliberations:
- “First, that transmission is controlled;
- Second, that health system capacities are in place to detect, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact;
- Third, that outbreak risks are minimized in special settings like health facilities and nursing homes;
- Fourth, that preventive measures are in place in workplaces, schools and other places where it’s essential for people to go;
- Fifth, that importation risks can be managed;
- And sixth, that communities are fully educated, engaged and empowered to adjust to the ‘new norm’.”
According to those criteria, is Puerto Rico ready to lift the curfew and the shelter in place restrictions? We will let our readers reach their own conclusions on that one.
5) Teachers need support for long-distance learning to work
The pandemic has forced public and private schools to adopt online or long-distance teaching technology. But as is the case with other structural inequalities brought to light in recent months, the proposed solution has exposed severe gaps in access to high-speed internet service, which, if left unaddressed, will only expand the already existing academic achievement gap of low-income students. As Kristina Rizga writes in The Atlantic, teachers and families need a specific support structure for long-distance teaching to work and prevent that achievement gap from widening. Among the issues she mentions are: free access to high-speed internet for low-income students; flexibility in complying with bureaucratic requirements; and the availability of peer-to-peer professional development tools. The government of Puerto Rico has announced a program to provide low-income families with tablets to be used by children for long-distance learning purposes. However, we are not aware of any efforts to provide low-cost access to high speed internet services in the island.
Quote of the Day
“It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.”
—William Carlos Williams
Note from the editor
As we enter the fifth week of shelter in place here in Puerto Rico, I am dumbfounded when I think about how much we just don’t know about what is going on with this pandemic and how things will play out. I guess this is what philosophers call “radical uncertainty”: we have no historical precedent from our lifetime to guide us, our understanding of the present is quite limited, and our perception of the future is hazy at best. We really are looking “through a glass darkly” now.
How do we find our way under those circumstances? Some will seek their guideposts in religion, others in philosophy, literature, or art, and still others…well, let’s say they will find their bearings elsewhere. It is truly humbling, though, this epistemic dearth, admitting we know nothing as we enter Blake’s dark “silent, silent night”.
This is the end of today’s briefing.
Stay safe and well informed!