Shevrin Jones: COVID-19 crisis underscores need for guaranteed basic income

Every sector of our economy is and will be hit by this.

I hope you and yours are staying healthy and safe during this ongoing crisis. There is no question that this has been an unprecedented few weeks as we navigate wide-reaching economic and public health challenges amid this pandemic.

What this moment is showing — perhaps more than ever — is that it matters who represents us in public office. Here in Florida, the consequences of our elections have been at the center of the national conversation these past few weeks. Our statewide stay-at-home order was issued far too late and came after weeks of nonstop images of crowded beaches trending on Twitter. Those beachgoers have since traveled to communities across the state and country, spreading this virus even further.

And now, as hundreds of thousands of Floridians are out of work, a spotlight is shining on the unacceptable mess that is our unemployment benefits system — a system that former Governor (and now U.S. Senator) Rick Scott intentionally designed that way.

The state’s website through which jobless Floridians are encouraged to apply for benefits is a glitch-ridden product of Scott’s time as governor. The site cost Florida taxpayers over $60 million to build in 2011, and yet, remains broken. This past month, countless Floridians have tried to use it as they try to figure out how they are going to make ends meet and feed their families. Many have expressed that they’ve been locked out of the site and redirected to the hotline — only to try hundreds of times and never connect with a claims agent who can help.

The jammed, understaffed hotline has led to some municipalities offering printed paper applications to residents as a way to assist. This week, Hialeah opened four sites at which people could pick up physical applications, and an overwhelming number of people lined up for hours as a result. This is a terrifying predicament at a time when people should be staying home and avoiding public places as much as possible.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis hit, income inequality and volatility were sharply on the rise. People are hurting, and it’s not just those who were experiencing poverty before who are suddenly experiencing economic insecurity. Every sector of our economy is and will be hit by this. These devastating circumstances and how we respond will shape our society for years to come.

We cannot afford to just wait for situations to worsen or force people to wait in limbo for weeks or months. This crisis has underscored the need for a guaranteed basic income for all. An unconditional, guaranteed basic income would give people the freedom to make effective decisions as needs arise — from food and transportation, to utilities and rent.

A few weeks ago, our team organized a drive-up food distribution event at which we expected maybe a few hundred people. Instead thousands of people from across South Florida came, lining up for miles, as so many of our friends and neighbors suddenly found themselves out of work and hungry.

And as made clear by the failed leadership from the White House throughout this crisis, it’s evident that lives will be saved by decisions made at the state and local level. A guaranteed basic income is a common-sense policy solution that would allow for greater personal and financial stability across the board. Economists and experts agree. It will make our economy more resilient in the long term and far past this moment. It is a start toward dismantling systemic inequality while also addressing needs developing as a result of this pandemic.

At the end of the day, every Floridian and person across this country deserves dignity and respect. These are trying times as families and small businesses across the state try to prepare for what could be months of continued uncertainty. People are scared about what’s ahead because this is unchartered territory for all of us.

Together (from a distance), we can, and will, get through this. I encourage you to utilize our office as a resource and contact us at any time if we can assist.

Here’s to brighter days on the other side.


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