Time for a payment pause for America?

(Lauren A. Little/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

In the old Soviet Union, they had a joke that ran as follows: They pretend to pay us – and we pretend to work.

That was equitable – in a Soviet kind of way. Nothing much got done. But nothing much was expected, either.

Win-win… kind of.

In the Corona’d States of Today, they tell us we can’t work – but we’re still expected to pay. Rent, mortgage, business loans. Taxes on our homes.

This is outrageous as well as mathematically untenable. People who aren’t allowed to work can’t pay.

They shouldn’t be expected to – until they’re allowed to work again. A payment pause – for us all – not just those deemed “essential” – until this crisis is over. Which is absolutely essential – if we hope to avert another and much worse crisis: millions of people losing their economic lives.

Which could end up costing more actual lives than the Corona Virus itself.

Via poverty.

Which already kills more people than heart disease and cancer combined. Before the effects of Corona are factored in.

According to the National Institutes of Health, 4.5 percent of the roughly 2.5 million deaths which occur each year in the United States are “ . . . caused by poverty related deficiencies” such as poor diet/nutrition, unsanitary conditions, exposure and hard living.

The very young, the very old and those with underlying medical issues are disproportionately affected by poverty – just as appears to be the case with the coronavirus.

What will happen when more than 30 percent of the population is out of work – as President Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says is a very real possibility? When millions go bankrupt?

When those being forced to “shelter in place” no longer have shelter – having been evicted from it, for nonpayment? How do you wash your hands when there’s no running water – because the water bill didn’t get paid?

How do you stay warm – when the power company cut off the power?

Starvation has a 100 percent mortality rate – making it far more lethal than the Coronavirus, which in more than 95 percent of the cases produces mild to moderate symptoms, but not death. 

We are told with great unction about lines around the block at hospitals; where is the concern about lines around the block for government cheese? Who will provide this cheese – and for how long?

Why not avoid this crisis?

That is the reasoning – moral and practical – behind the COVID-19 Moratorium and Forbearance Debt Relief ACT (MAFDRA). It is a proposal put forward by the Commercial Academy and laid out in an open letter just published by businessman J. Scott Scheel, one of its founders.

For the duration of the lockdown, Americans victimized by the pandemic would not be victimized twice by being expected to pay bills with money they haven’t got – because the government says they’re not allowed to go to work.   

Mortgage and car payments, credit card bills, student loan debt – and all interest on such debt – suspended for at least 90 days or until the crisis is over and Americans are able to get back to work. 

This isn’t a giveaway.

It’s a breather.

Instead of cratering the economy it would preserve it – by preventing artificial defaults. Unlike the government bailouts 2008-2009, MAFDRA isn’t rescuing the insolvent and irresponsible. It is protecting the solvent and responsible – who will pay as soon as they get back to work. 

It’s also an equalizer.

The government that has ordered millions of Americans to “sacrifice” needs to make some itself.

MAFDRA has an additional provision that would require real estate and personal property taxes to be held in abeyance (without interest) for the duration of the emergency, thereby taking tremendous financial pressure off the backs of millions of not-working Americans. This measure all by itself offers more relief than the federal government’s proposal to send Americans $1,200 or so to offset the money not made because they’re not working – because most Americans face property tax bills significantly higher than $1,200 or so.

But the best part about MAFDRA is that it’s not a zero-sum game. In fact, everyone wins – and no one loses.

The bills will get paid – just not right now.

And not with other people’s money (or manufactured money, as by printing it).

Instead of increasing the government debt – and the interest on the national debt – MAFDRA would prevent debt from cascading out of control into what could easily become a depression worse than that precipitated by the stock market crash of 1929 – which took the country more than a decade to recover from.

Millions of Americans never did – including millions who died in almost unimaginable poverty. The Grapes of Wrath wasn’t fiction.

MAFDRA will avoid a replay of that horrible reality.


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