With Pandemic, Time To Resist Magical Thinking

There will be a whole lot of pain between now and mid-2021 when a new-normal becomes possible.

  • Monday, November 23, 2020 5:52pm
  • Opinion
Deborah Diamond

Deborah Diamond

The election is over (it really is) and a COVID vaccine is on the horizon (it really is), but there will be a whole lot of pain between now and mid-2021 when a new-normal becomes possible.

The immediate pain is the COVID surge and the reinstated restrictions. The only “good” news will be fewer family feuds about politics, masks, and whether the baby marshmallows in the sweet potato casserole are organic or not.

Stop the magical thinking and mask up! Wash up! Keep your distance! Resist socializing outside your household! It’s time to emulate Dr. Fauci’s sense of moral obligation to order takeout once or twice a week to support local restaurants.

If there is a COVID exposure at your place of business, don’t try to gloss it over and let it break out in the community. Seek help immediately from Vashon Be Prepared. The Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) can guide you through the process so you can open again (as did Dr. Langland and The Roasterie). You can provide your employees with paid sick leave and get 100% reimbursement via a tax credit on your quarterly employment tax return. Or I can help your employees file for unemployment for the weeks you’re closed.

The U.S. Department of Labor and the Washington Employment Security Department (ESD) are jockeying over who is going to pay ongoing unemployment benefits. Many claimants are being asked to reapply and endure a gap in benefits in the changeover. There are backlogs of 20,000 unpaid claims and 17,000 appeals, which are generating presumptive overpayment notices. Although ESD says they are not actually issuing new liens or garnishments, people are freaked out by increasingly threatening collection notices.

And then the cliff’s edge: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits for the self-employed and part-time workers are set to expire on Dec. 26, along with the nationwide eviction moratorium and suspension of student-loan payments. Happy Holidays!

According to a Nov. 15 article in the Wall Street Journal, Deutsch Bank estimates that a lapse in unemployment benefits would reduce consumer income by $150 billion and shave 1% off of economic output in the first quarter of 2021.

The “good” news is that unemployment benefits depend on the state unemployment rate and the speed of economic recovery. Unemployment benefits were extended in increments to a total of 99 weeks following the 2008 recession, so there is hope.

It is doubtful that the lame-duck Congress will pass a stimulus bill before the end of the year, but it seems likely that the new Congress and the new administration will act quickly. A retroactive federal boost to unemployment benefits would be most welcome by the approximately 400 Vashonites who are still unemployed. The minimum $201/week for wage earners and $235/week for PUA recipients probably does not pay the rent.

When I was working for the IRS international division, I had a tour-of-duty in Central America. Flying from Honduras to Guatemala, I made the mistake of asking the airline ticket agent about the name of the airline. I was told SAHSA stood for “Stay At Home, Stay Alive.” And now 40 years later, in a very different world, that’s exactly what we all need to do.

Deborah Diamond is a retired IRS Governmental Liaison and current workplace investigator who has provided nearly 1,000 free telephone consultations with Islanders re: stimulus payments, unemployment benefits, and PPP loans through Vashon Be Prepared and the Vashon Chamber of Commerce “Ask An Expert” program. For assistance or to sign up for weekly unemployment tips, contact deborah@vashonbeprepared.org.

Deborah’s portrait was done by Pam Ingalls for her “Local Heroes” exhibit.

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