Rethinking our COVID-19 response

The Governor is considering massive pay cuts to government employees; the Legislature will be quitting session early, voting primarily on construction projects; and meanwhile, there have been 237,048 unemployment applications filed with the state. It’s not clear how the politics of the moment will end up, but there’s at least a sense in the air that without a major intervention, working people will bear both the human and financial burdens for this pandemic. Before votes are cast, let’s consider a few other options. Here’s a quick sketch of what that could look like – imho.

Solve health care for 237,048 + people who are now unemployed

A large portion of the incoming Federal dollars should be used to expand Medicaid and provide high-quality, lower-cost health care for these individuals. Though Medicare-For-All gets a lot of attention, Medicaid is a much more flexible program which states and counties can use to provide for our citizens. Senator Schatz has done a lot of work on this. And our neighbors in Nevada laid the groundwork in 2017 with a four-page bill that established a Medicaid-based Nevada Care Plan for all state residents. Copy & paste please.

At a moment of high unemployment and low interest-rates, invest in the long-term projects that our islands need

COVID is just the first crisis of the 2020s. We know that by the end of this decade we need to reduce our carbon dioxide footprint by half if we are to imagine a decent life for our children and grandchildren. This work includes reforestation and tree planting; opening new ag lands and restoring fishponds; increasing sewer capacity so that we can build more affordable housing in the urban core; burying utility poles to prepare for stronger storms; and building new solar farms to wean ourselves off of coal and oil and achieve island energy independence.

This is also a moment with high unemployment and historically-low interest-rates. So rather than using the $1.25B in federal dollars (part of a massive modern monetary-theory fueled $2T creation of cash) for these capital improvements, let’s float low-cost general-obligation bonds to pay for these financeable projects, while simultaneously creating green blue-collar jobs.

Save the federal cash for health care.

A better economy

Many hotel chains are refusing to accept federal dollars because they don’t want to be required to re-hire unionized workers when they reopen. Our city and state governments should pass requirements that workers can return to their jobs when the property reopens.

In the meantime, let’s reimagine our economy. Subsidies for tourism advertising should be ended, as Kaniela Ing mentioned. We need to keep resources available for 21st century industries, like carbon-capture and reuse and knowledge industries. But fundamentally, the key element in a more balanced economy is a well-educated populace – which is why the Draconian cuts floated by the Governor needs to be replaced with a better, more cogent budget proposal.