Federal aid has so far been suboptimal in allocating economic assistance to those who need it the most. Over half of coronavirus aid went directly to businesses, many of which were not compelled to keep their employees or prove that they were negatively impacted by the pandemic. By contrast, only about a fifth went directly to workers and families, and the aid that did was not always well-targeted. For example, initial direct payments (stimulus checks) excluded children if they had one parent who was an undocumented immigrant. Direct stimulus payments were also administered slowly, with millions of American families waiting months to receive their funds.
For the purpose of this analysis, the most well-targeted program was supplemental unemployment insurance. By tracking unemployment and incorporating a broader definition of unemployed workers, enhanced unemployment benefits should have flown disproportionately to those in more impacted industries such as leisure and hospitality. As a result, enhanced benefits did more to support the economies of Las Vegas and Orlando than their relative impact in San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Likewise, we would expect Hispanic or Latino workers to make up a disproportionate number of claims given that they faced disproportionately high unemployment. Herein lies one serious potential problem. Many states continue to struggle with significant difficulty in administering the new unemployment insurance aid.
Multiple factors are at play, including specific states’ difficulty modernizing their systems to accommodate the new federal rules and the sudden spike in demand. Florida, for example, had an archaic system that made it difficult for newly eligible workers to qualify. Nevada’s difficulty in expanding eligibility and processing record levels of unemployment claims were also well-documented, leading to a class-action lawsuit against the state’s employment department. Delays in processing claims and providing payments are particularly harmful for people with little savings and difficulty accessing short-term credit at a reasonable cost, burdens that apply disproportionately to Hispanic or Latino Nevadans. This could be one reason why enhanced unemployment insurance benefits were not equitably taken up by those who need it; about the same proportion of workers who filed for unemployment benefits are Hispanic or Latino as are in the workforce, even though Hispanic or Latino workers were disproportionately unemployed.
The heralded Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which offered affected businesses and workers forgivable loans (in effect grants), saved many fewer jobs than the lofty anticipated 30 million; in the first two months of the program, researchers estimate that only 2.3 million jobs were saved, at a price of $286,000 each. The PPP grants that were distributed seemed mismatched with the unemployment rate in those sectors. According to a Washington Post analysis, 32% of jobs lost were in the lodging, restaurants, and bar industry (a core component of hospitality and leisure), but the industry only received 8% of PPP grants. Similarly, the arts, entertainment & recreation industry had a job loss rate three times higher than the portion of PPP grants it received. Correspondingly, finance and insurance companies that relatively prospered throughout the pandemic received over $8 billion in PPP funds. Put another way, finance and insurance received over $350,000 in PPP funding per job lost from February to April as compared to about $8,000 in arts, entertainment, and recreation, and $7,800 in accommodation and food services.
Source: Brookings Institute
Vaccine Passports: what we need to know
The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than half a million people in the US and has seriously impacted our daily lives. The granting of Emergency Use Authorizations for COVID-19 vaccines has been a game changer in helping to reverse the pandemic onslaught. Demand for the vaccines currently far exceeds supply nationwide. They have become the golden ticket that can transport us back to a time when routine activities, such as attending school or taking vacations, didn’t seem fraught with danger. What’s the best way to go about re-establishing these activities? One idea that’s getting discussed seriously is giving those who have been immunized a vaccination passport (VP).
What is a vaccination passport?
Let’s start by clarifying some terminology. VPs are documents that show that someone has been given a vaccine(s) and is therefore presumed to be immune from getting and sharing that disease. These are distinct from diagnostic tests to determine if a person is or is not infected with a particular virus (PCR and viral antigen tests) or has been exposed to a virus (antibody tests). VPs are the modern day equivalents of the “letters of transit” that played a key role in the film Casablanca. They’ll enable you to travel freely.
Why give vaccine passports?
Vaccinated people are unlikely to transmit the virus that causes COVID-19 with others, though this has yet to be definitely proven. So, what’s the primary rationale for giving vaccination passports? It seems the goal is to incentivize people to get vaccinated. Folks might be more likely to seek out the vaccine if it bestows upon them certain privileges, such as being able to travel freely. While the idea might sound appealing at one level, the road to vaccine passports is pockmarked with political potholes and littered with logistical land mines.
There are a lot of important questions that need to be answered before VPs can become widespread; it’s unlikely there will be a “one size fits all” solution. What might VPs look like? Pieces of paper (that could easily be lost or counterfeited), or a digital key or document you store on your smartphone (that many older folks still don’t have)? If you lost one, how would you get it replaced? Would your vaccination records be tied to your other medical records, and if so, what kind of privacy and security protections would be needed to safeguard your data? How would the passport administrator verify that you got vaccinated in the first place? Who is responsible for correcting any errors that crop up? Given how much we’ve struggled as a nation to simply solve the scheduling of vaccinations, VPs might be significantly more difficult to manage.
Who’s going to run the program?
A coalition of health tech leaders (including Epic, the Mayo Clinic, Microsoft and Salesforce) has started the Vaccination Credential Initiative to create an internationally accepted digital health card. Its vision – as stated on its website – is “to empower individuals to obtain an encrypted digital copy of their immunization credentials to store in a digital wallet of their choice. Those without smartphones could receive paper printed with QR codes containing World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) verifiable credentials.” Some European countries (e.g. Denmark) are working on developing their own immunization passports, and the President of the European Union Commission has voiced support for them.
We already have a hodgepodge system designed to keep folks with COVID-19 from traveling. Many airlines are requiring proof of non-infectivity to board a plane – these are distinct from VPs. The methods adopted vary from airline to airline: United uses Travel Ready Center, American uses VeriFly while others use Common Pass. Saga cruises are the first in the UK to demand proof of vaccination, but not everyone is on board with the concept. The World Travel and Tourism Council stated its opposition to allowing travel only by those who have been vaccinated, on the grounds that it is discriminatory.
The concept of gaining advantage from one’s immunological status is not a new one. In New Orleans in the mid 19th century, great economic value was attached to those who survived the onslaught of epidemic waves of yellow fever. A mix of structural racism and a system valuing “immunocapital” ranked men and women highly if they were yellow fever survivors. Those that had not had the disease yet found it difficult to obtain work or obtain credit and women could not marry. Slaves were similarly revalued, with larger assessments attached to survivors. This legacy of viral discrimination casts a long shadow over current discussions surrounding vaccination passports.
Also problematic is the fact that not everyone will be eligible for VPs. Some people can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons but would still like to participate in whatever activities the passports enable (such as travel opportunities). These individuals will likely file complaints if they are denied VPs, arguing that they’re discriminatory in nature. Vaccine opponents will no doubt also file lawsuits seeking to block the use of VPs, claiming they represent an attack on their freedoms and personal choice.
Others may be shut out of VP programs because they don’t have the computer skills to register online, a problem that’s turned out to be widespread with the vaccinations. Don’t have any ID? In some places this prevents the most vulnerable from getting the COVID-19 vaccine, and therefore VPs as well. Many Black and marginalized communities are already deeply suspicious of the medical establishment, and wary of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. Restrictions that prevent these groups from participating in various societal activities because they don’t have VPs will echo the Jim Crow days of poll taxes and literacy tests that were required to vote.
VPs bring up a similar issue as mask mandates: who is going to enforce them? It is one thing for a cruise line to do so, since reservations are required and extensive paperwork needs to be filled out in advance. Who is going to keep non-vaccinated people out of restaurants or concerts that require proof of vaccination? We’ve already seen anti-maskers storm department stores, ignore requirements to wear masks on planes and even kill a security guard who confronted them.
Black market for vaccine passports
Many airlines are now requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test before they will let their customers fly. This has led to a black market for fake negative COVID-19 test results for those who are looking to game the system. Similarly, bogus cards claiming that the cardholder was exempt– for medical reasons – from having to wear a mask, have been manufactured and distributed. It’s not hard to imagine that a similar market will emerge for VPs.
Overcoming vaccine hesitancy
Given the multitude of issues and concerns listed above, moving forward with issuing vaccination passports seems highly problematic. If the primary purpose of having VPs is to drive up immunization rates, that can be better accomplished by running public service announcements and ads illustrating how liberating it is to start doing normal activities once vaccinated. A nationwide campaign to do just that is already in the works. I personally can think of a better use for the time and money that will be spent on establishing VPs: use them to focus efforts on overcoming vaccine hesitancy in concert with combatting the high tide of online vaccine misinformation and disinformation.
Source: Technology Networks