quinta-feira, 28 de maio de 2020

Version 2.024

On Friday, we celebrated the 2-month anniversary of Congress passing the CARES Act, which is one of the relief bills to deal with the adverse effects of Covid-19. The CARES act is massive in size, the most expensive bill ever enacted in the U.S.: $2,2 trillion. For comparison sake, U.S. GDP was $20.54 trillion in 2018.

It was spent on direct payments to individuals (according to that law, individuals making less than $75000/year qualify to receive $1200 immediately; those that make more than $75000, but less than $99000 can receive a smaller amount of money. Children up to 17 years old got $500 each), loans to small businesses, payments for healthcare expenses, tax rebates and tax credits, etc. This was the third bill that Congress had passed to deal with Coronavirus and after that another bill was passed to address salary protection. At this moment, Congress is debating whether to pass more bills to keep the economy afloat.

I thought that, despite the insanity of having Donald Trump as President, Congress was very generous for how quickly it was all put together and, surprisingly, a lot of the payments were sent to the families within a month of the CARES Act passing, for example. Of course, people who became unemployed also were entitled to unemployment insurance, but that is administered by the states, but since the systems were overwhelmed, payments have been very late for some people, unfortunately.

Of course, all of this comes after the U.S. Federal Reserve started to flood the economy with money. It is completely unprecedented the scale of intervention; at one point, the Federal Reserve even hinted that they would support nonprofits directly. On Marketplace and Twitter, Kai Ryssdal shared that it was "no asset left behind." No other country in the world has spent as much money or has gone as far as the U.S. to protect its people and the economy. But society is also trying to step up to the challenge.

One of the first things I did when the economy was shutdown was to make a $250 donation to World Central Kitchen, the nonprofit organization started by José Andrés, the Spanish chef. When I was in Washington, DC, last February, which seems like an eternity now, I went to Jaleo, his restaurant, twice, even though I was only in the area for about four days, and I made sure to drag a friend with me. I really admire the work that Chef Andrés does, so I wanted to support that work.

The company I work for rewards and facilitates employee donations and volunteer work in the community and we are also encouraged to share our work in this area with our colleagues, so as to inspire our team members to participate. I am always happy when I see my colleagues in Brazil and Portugal post their accomplishments toward supporting the communities in which they work. Furthermore, the company usually matches 50% of our donations, up to $1000 per employee per year.

So when I was setting up my donation to WCK, I went to my employer's community support website, but because of the urgency of the pandemic, they advised us to donate directly to the nonprofit, since that would get the money to the nonprofits quickest, and then submit my donation receipt to get the company match. And that is why I ended up donating $250 to WCK right away and then set up my paycheck to send $25 every two weeks to them (I get paid bi-weekly).

Every month, I also put $25 in my Kiva account and that money only gets loaned to women in underdeveloped countries because that is who I like to loan to. what I do does not sound like much, but every drop in the bucket counts. There are other donations I make, as my goal is to try to donate $200 of every paycheck to causes I cared deeply for; but I also make one-off contributions, if I feel I can make a difference.

I recognize that today I lead a life of privilege and, despite having been unemployed several times, I have always had savings or unemployment insurance. If all else failed, there was also access to credit cards. I have always understood that the United States is a high risk country where you are expected to take care of yourself before asking for help, so I have always prioritized investments and savings over spending. My personal philosophy is that you are only one event away from your whole life collapsing.

For many of us, this pandemic is that event and we who are well should recognize the sheer luck that it has not hit us -- yet, because one never knows -- and we must remain humble. But once we take care of ourselves we must do better to help others. For the last two months, many of my Portuguese friends have felt sorry for me because I am in the U.S. and they presume that it is a horrible country, where one does not have access to healthcare or basic needs, but they feel safe in Portugal.

I do not share that experience. I have been reading some of the news in Portugal and there is something very wrong with a country in which, in the middle of a pandemic, the Ministry of Finance delays income tax refunds because someone doesn't want to let go of that cash, when the European Central Bank has clearly stated that the countries have carte blanche to spend.

But what is sickening is that this lackadaisicalness in returning people's own money is announced less than a week after Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, the President of the Republic, says that there are almost 400 thousand Portuguese people who are seeking help to have access to food, which is an euphemism for the fact that these people are at risk of going hungry. How many of these folks are entitled to IRS refunds? Why is it defensible to delay IRS refunds in a country where hundreds of thousands could be going hungry? Even Donald Trump does not dare to be this callous -- he signed off on those stimulus checks, literally.




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