Acton Institute Powerblog

From CARES to worries: The post-COVID economy calls for bold entrepreneurship

After months of facing the coronavirus, Americans now face a spreading virus of evictions.

More than 5,845,000 Americans have tested positive for COVID-19 since it reached the United States. As a result, almost 18 million people have lost their jobs or were forced to remain at home in order to protect themselves and their families from the novel coronavirus. Beginning at the end of March, the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, had been providing much-needed aid to millions of Americans forced to shelter in place during the pandemic.

The CARES Act gave many Americans economic support in addition to other forms of assistance, like mortgage deferment and 120 days of eviction relief for those living in a home with a federally backed mortgage loan. Between 12.3 million and 19.9 million households received eviction protection due to their inability to cover housing payments amidst the pandemic. These benefits temporarily helped families through the uncertainty that COVID-19 brought.

However, the CARES Act and the benefits tied to it expired on July 31. Almost immediately, Congress went on recess until after Labor Day. Americans’ problems, however, did not go on vacation.

With benefits exhausted, millions of households struggled to find much-needed funds to stave off pending evictions, utility shut-off notices, and repossessions of their vehicles. For many affected by the virus, returning to work so soon after the pandemic “subsided” is dangerous not only for themselves but for their families, as well. Some have preexisting lung or heart conditions, or other underlying health concerns, which put them at higher risk for the dangers of the virus. Others worry for the safety of their young children or elderly parents. Additionally, the CARES Act did not prevent these millions of Americans from amassing house-related debts while the economy idled. They were still required to pay months of back rent owed once the CARES Act expired, even though the majority were unemployed or underemployed during those months.

As a result, many are currently threatened with eviction since the end of the CARES Act. According to the Aspen Institute, about 40 million Americans are facing eviction “during the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.” For many of them, nothing has changed since March. They still cannot find jobs, still cannot go to work, or still cannot find the funds to cover these bills. The CARES Act provided temporary help during a pandemic, but it was not a cure; it was only a postponement. This struggle for such necessities as shelter demonstrates the failure to craft a long-term national program of assistance and recovery for the average American.

In addition to the “new normal,” the issue Americans are facing is how to recover and move forward after almost six months of unemployment. How will these millions of Americans find the means to pay for food, electricity, or rent? With jobs eliminated or downsized due to the virus, many are fearful. The U.S. Department of Labor announced the Labor Wage Assistance (LWA) program, which is planning to give $400 a week to those who qualify. The catch is that LWA is a federal-state joint program in which states need to agree to pay 25%, or $100, of that total. This program seems to be another immediate and temporary solution meant to bandage the wound instead of treating it. Once LWA ends in December (or earlier), Americans will simply find themselves in the same situation as they do now.

There is no certainty that COVID-19 is going away anytime soon. With the presidential election in November and both political parties unable to come to an agreement on another proposal to help those most severely affected, Americans need a plan to tackle this overwhelming virus of evictions and job losses.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, and with government programs merely delaying the inevitable human pain and suffering, Americans will have to dig deep down and rediscover their entrepreneurial spirit. They will need to create work that responds to the needs of a pandemic in sectors related to health, logistics, home education, and technological breakthroughs. If Americans recover this initiative, then instead of the destruction of society, COVID-19 could bring about creative destruction – which, according to Joseph Schumpeter, forces a market and its innovative actors to bring about new industries and creative methods to replace outdated products or outmoded services. A COVID-19 economy dragged down by a rapidly growing nanny state is the perfect environment to bring about the antibody: a heroic, entrepreneurial Renaissance.

(Photo: President Trump  signs the CARES Act on March 27, 2020. Photo credit: The White House. Public domain.)

Kielce Gussie

Kielce Gussie is a Church Communication graduate student at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.