Ridgefield Democratic View: Economic recovery will require extensive policy intervention

State Senator Will Haskell (D-Westport)

State Senator Will Haskell (D-Westport)

Cathy Zuraw / Hearst Connecticut Media

On Thursday morning, our country woke up to difficult news in what has already been an immensely challenging month: The total number of nationwide unemployment claims reached 6.6 million. Here in Connecticut, we have seen a total of 220,000 claims in the past 2 ½ weeks alone, more than we experienced in the entirety of 2019.

The unemployment statistics are a stark reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing serious financial hardship to our state and country. It will be up to our municipal, state and federal leaders to form a plan for recovery.

First, we need to understand that this is a public health crisis with economic consequences, not an economic crisis in and of itself. Many of the “normal” indicators of a healthy economy — open businesses, strong consumer demand, high rates of travel — run counter to our public health goals.

Removing social distancing restrictions might get people back to work in Connecticut short-term, but it will also allow the virus to transmit quickly between population centers, leading to tens of thousands of cases, hundreds of deaths, and an even more dire economic outcome down the road. As commercially painful as it may be, intense social distancing is the only responsible path forward for at least the next six weeks.

Second, we need to recognize that a big, unusual problem like the COVID-19 virus will require big, unusual public policy responses. Already, the state of Connecticut has taken steps that would be unthinkable in a normal year. We’ve closed schools for weeks, placed strict limitations on how retail outlets can operate, and pushed back tax deadlines for employees and employers alike.

As this crisis continues, our state’s response must continue to grow and evolve. This week, Governor Lamont reached an unprecedented agreement with more than 60 banks and credit unions to provide a 90-day mortgage payment forbearance for Connecticut homeowners. Last week, the state Department of Community and Economic Development offered $25 million in loan relief for small businesses. After seeing the immense demand, the DECD made the decision to double that relief in a stroke, for a total of $50 million.

In the coming months, our response will need to be even larger. We need to significantly increase the funding and stability of our unemployment insurance program as it faces a historic burden. We should provide even more aid to our small businesses, many of which will simply not survive without direct government stimulus. Our state healthcare plans must be fortified to handle an influx of policyholders as workers are kicked off of their employer insurance plans.

Finally, we need to recognize that no government policy or philanthropic venture will come close to putting our economy, our neighborhoods, and our lives back where they were before this outbreak. We are going to face a long, difficult period of recovery. But it is my sincere belief that we will rise to this challenge, both in Ridgefield and Connecticut, and emerge as a stronger, more unified, more compassionate community.

The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee provides this column.