After a concerted two decades of Republican efforts to destroy government—to the extent that they put a corrupt, sociopathic clown of a Russian puppet in the White House—it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this government is disastrously failing at responding to this crisis. There’s not an element of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that the Trump administration hasn’t messed up delivering on, with the possible exception of the tax cuts to the very wealthy.
The Small Business Administration has had two terrible rollouts of the Paycheck Protection Program, with the system crashing and overwhelmed within minutes of being launched both times. Except for the very big businesses, the ones whose CEOs can bypass that whole applying online business by just making a call to their personal contact at the very big bank and getting pushed to the front of the line. Some of those very big business were publicly shamed into returning the money, but plenty of publicly traded big borrowers are refusing to do so even as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin encourages them to. Because he might be the one person in the Trump administration who is bothered by bad press.
Lawmakers are hearing about it: “Our constituents have a lot of questions about where the hell this $3 trillion is going and why it isn’t coming into their pockets,” said Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon last week during a meeting at the Capitol when the House returned to pass the Phase 3.5 bill that boosted funding for the small business loans. That’s a bipartisan sentiment, by the way. “Fraudulent actors go to where the money is, and this is where the money is right now,” said Rep. Rob Woodall, a Georgia Republican. “So I absolutely think that we have to redouble our effort to make sure that these dollars aren’t wasted.”
Even the $1,200 stimulus check was problematic for many, including people who needed it most—those who didn’t make enough money to have to file taxes in the past two years—having to jump through ridiculous hoops to collect it. People whose spouses are documented immigrants and aren’t eligible. Checks being sent to dead people. Expanded unemployment insurance benefits are great, but only if the states’ systems for processing them can handle the influx of applicants.
Hospitals are “utterly perplexed,” in one health consultant’s words, about how they are supposed be getting their billions in funds. The formula Health and Human Services (HHS) initially used was the easiest for them: give the money based on the ones that had the most Medicare reimbursements, even though those weren’t the hospitals that were the hardest hit in the pandemic. “We are all utterly perplexed trying to figure out what the hell this formula is and how it’s going to work,” they said. “They could be sending out checks today, and we truly don’t know how they’re doing it.”
The administration also hasn’t made clear at all how the money it has designated for caring for uninsured coronavirus patients is going to work. HHS hasn’t told hospitals how much money is available to them in this pot, and it has banned any hospital that uses the funds from billing patients. HHS also hasn’t told those patients how to get their medical bills covered. Even the telehealth program that was approved early on has been problematic because the Federal Communications Commission refuses to grant some of the $200 million it got to all hospitals.
In trying to get checks out to everyone, the IRS is dealing with systems that are literally four and five decades old with staff already depleted by years and years of budget cuts. This is where the super-rich are like the rest of us, at least—the IRS is having difficulties processing the requests for the big tax cut for wealthy business owners in the stimulus.
Small farmers and ranchers have been left out, too. They’re having as much difficulty getting those PPP loans as other real small businesses, and the lenders they normally work with didn’t even get approved by Treasury to loan out the money in the first round. “We’re not confident at all that this will be terribly effective for agriculture,” said Todd Van Hoose, president of the Farm Credit Council. “We had a terrible time getting approval for our lenders to participate through the SBA program.”
It’s all a mess, and it can almost entirely be laid at Trump’s feet. Because of the urgency of the crisis, the only response Congress should have is just to throw more money at all of it—starting with $2,000 monthly payments to everyone in America—and then figuring out how to claw it back from those who shouldn’t have gotten it afterward. What it also means is that Democrats absolutely should not be afraid of going for the maximum in the next package and defending it to the hilt.