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Editorial: Government should help individuals and businesses recover

As unemployment surges and much of the U.S. economy is shut down, it’s imperative that state and federal leaders promptly provide economic relief to Americans and businesses to minimize the deepening hardships of the coronavirus health crisis.

Extraordinary macro-economic efforts are needed to help employees and businesses at all levels, from the personal trainer whose gym is ordered closed, to the gym’s landlord who needs the rental income to make mortgage payments, to the local bank whose loan is bundled in a pension fund portfolio. It’s all connected.

Bars, stores and theaters forced to shutter – as well as restaurants forced to limit their service to carry-out and delivery – have rental and mortgage payments and other bills. Banks have shareholders. Wall Street has investors who are reeling. Private retirement plans are plummeting.

In such times, evictions and mortgage payments should be suspended, and due payments should not be allowed to amass into a large lump sum. New Mexico utility companies and electric co-ops who have temporarily halted nonpayment disconnects and late fees are setting the right example.

Unemployment red tape needs to be cut to a minimum so that out-of-work employees can make ends meet. Unlike public-sector employees, private-sector employees receive only a portion of their wages, with no guarantees of the duration of unemployment benefits. Seemingly overnight, we’ve gone from low unemployment to more than 10,000 New Mexicans applying for unemployment benefits last week – the highest number in memory.

Congress and the president are considering a $1 trillion rescue package to shore up households, health care and the economy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has proposed direct payments of $1,200 per person, $2,400 for couples, and $500 per child for income-qualified Americans. McConnell’s plan includes $200 billion in loans to airlines and distressed industries and $300 billion in forgivable loans for small businesses, which operate on thin margins and employ about half of the nation’s workforce.

President Trump has proposed a plan that would allocate direct payments in April of $1,000 per adult and $500 per child. A second round of payments would go out in May if a presidential national disaster declaration isn’t lifted.

The Democrat-controlled House is working on its own rescue package. Any final compromise isn’t expected to reach the president’s desk until later this week.

New Mexico state officials have announced several new business and commercial loan programs and are considering more drastic action, including a special legislative session to deal with the impact of plunging oil and natural gas prices on the recently approved $7.6 billion state budget.

The public health crisis caused by the coronavirus shows us just how fragile civilization can be. New Mexicans are frightened they won’t be able to get groceries. Gun and ammo sales are surging. Store shelves are being emptied as quickly as they are filled.

Even though the impetus was a deadly virus spreading across the world, it is the government that has decided for public safety to order a shutdown of much of the economy. It’s now the responsibility of government to mitigate the economic hardship confronting Americans.

Expedited government help for businesses and people who have lost their income is essential – and the right thing to do.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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