Tuesday, 02 June 2020 09:27

As TX Businesses Reopen, Short-Lived Coronavirus Safety Net is Dismantled

Written by Emma Platoff, The Texas Tribune


This spring, as a global pandemic promised historic suffering and economic ruin, Texas officials reached for unfamiliar tools.

They wove together some protections for the vulnerable, expanding unemployment benefits and child care subsidies, limiting evictions, utility shutoffs and debt collections.


As summer approaches with no cure for the virus and Texas businesses reopen to diminished profits, many of the threads in that makeshift safety net are being snipped.


The dead top 1,600; the jobless exceed 2 million. The state craves a return to normal.


But the ongoing human and economic trauma has touched off a debate between those who believe the pandemic is disrupting a sustainable economic order and those who think it clarifies the fault lines in the system.


“We’ve already seen that the institutional framework works---look how low the unemployment rate was before this,” said Vance Ginn, who recently rejoined the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation as chief economist after a stint in the Trump administration. “I don’t think we’ll see Texans change their mentality of independence. ... I hope we would head in the direction of more markets and not more government.”


Others, largely on the left, say the coronavirus’ economic fallout shows Texans need more support from their government, including expanded health care benefits and protections like paid sick leave.


“Texas, with all of its success and all of the wealth, was in a situation where it had at least the perception that its affluence allowed it to look away from certain things, to ignore certain types of issues and problems,” said Kirk Watson, a longtime Democrat in the Texas Senate who now serves as founding dean of the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs. “Now we have gone through an enormous economic shock. That economic shock put a real light on the fact that there were weaknesses in that system.”


It was mid-March when Texas marked its first coronavirus-related death, and the cancellation of major events like Austin’s SXSW Festival and the Houston Rodeo hinted at mounting economic damage.


On March 13, Gov. Greg Abbott declared a statewide emergency. Within the week, the Texas Supreme Court halted evictions, and the Texas Workforce Commission waived the requirement that people be actively seeking work to receive unemployment benefits.

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