We’re all in the same storm, but we’re all in different boats.
Each and every person and segment of our community is being affected by a variety of the same strains and challenges brought about by the virus, yet everyone has different personal circumstances that can dramatically shape how hard each individual has been hit.
That phrase, or variations of the phrase, has been popping up in my conversations with leaders and in the news, and has provided me a lens through which I’ve been trying to view the ongoing effects of COVID-19 on our community.
Specifically, it has colored the lens through which I’m viewing the government’s economic impact payment program.
And it’s helped me see an opportunity to maximize the value of the stimulus program to our local community.
While the intention of this particular stimulus was initiated first and foremost to help those in immediate need, that won’t necessarily happen in the most efficient way due to the design of the program – more on that in a second.
But, for those with the financial means, if you want to maximize the immediate benefit to those most in need, don’t just spend your stimulus locally – give it away locally. And encourage others to think of their stimulus check as a government-issued stimulus grant and do the same.
This realization came as a result of a little of my own introspection that I’d like to share.
While my wife, Kaci, and our six-month-old son Kohltin, will likely be financially affected in some ways this year, as a young family we are in a fortunate financial position. Our boat is relatively stable, and comparatively speaking, built to weather the storm.
Yet, despite having a comfortable income level, we were among the estimated 140 million Americans that either have received or will receive a stimulus payment from the IRS.
That has weighed heavily on my mind.
And, it has made us think about how our family can best use the stimulus. Instead of viewing it as cash, we’ve decided to think about it like a government-issued grant that we have the autonomy to distribute directly to support those in need of immediate support. And that’s what we will be doing.
Again, think different boats. For many, that stimulus money is needed to go toward repairing the holes punched in the sides of their boats by the virus, and it will provide critical support for essentials like rent, food, childcare, etc.
But the reality is many – including my wife and I – aren’t nearly as in need of the emergency funds as others are right now, and it frustrates me that, due to the necessary rapid nature of the program’s design and the limitations any program this large, people in much more need than us – immigrants, some high school kids, college students, recently laid off high earners, small business owners, etc. – won’t be getting a check.
I understand the politics, and limitations, that led to a program being designed in a way that provides direct financial support (Up to $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for couples, plus $500 per child) for a relatively large swath of the population. Truly, rapidly trying to provide stimulus funds based on 2019 or 2018 income level makes it hard for the government to know for sure the stability and type of boats people are currently traveling in.
And of course from an economics standpoint, outside of those that don’t need the emergency funds to repair holes, the traditional intention of a stimulus check is to provide spending money so people continue to stimulate the economy by spending their money at businesses for goods and services.
If you aren’t in a position to give it away, spending it locally is the next best thing. In fact, according to a Fortune Magazine article, how you spend each dollar of a stimulus check can go on to generate an additional $.30 to $.80 cents. To get closer to that $.80 cent mark, one way is to spend the dollars locally.
Yet, while some studies of the stimulus effort during the great recession showed that the programs had a positive effect on employment and growth, there is a subtle loss in how targeted the economic output will be and that can be addressed in a way that allows a stimulus check to be optimized for economic benefit.
An example to demonstrate. If a married couple were to use the entirety of its stimulus to buy $2,400 worth of gift cards to a local restaurant, it would surely be a big help to the business owner. However, in this example, the restaurant owner will still need to provide the service at a future date, and will, of course, have expenses associated with the meals that the family eventually buys with the gift cards.
So while one way to help ensure your stimulus check stimulates our local economy is to spend it locally on goods and services (and gift cards, in particular, are an efficient way to get cash into the hands of a business as a sort of short-term loan), the most efficient way to maximize the check is to pass it through directly to organizations, individuals, businesses and nonprofits that will leverage the full value without the expense of having to provide a good or service.
The latest estimates show that 93.6% of tax filers will receive a stimulus check of varying amounts depending on income level. Individuals with income up to $99,000 and married couples up to $198,000 will receive a stimulus check of some amount (checks decrease by $5 for every $100 above the income levels of $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for married couples).
One of the things modeled over generations of leadership in our region is our community’s unique capacity to give at greater levels and across larger swaths of our population. The magnitude of this virus is going to challenge even this community’s generosity, and it will accelerate what was already a growing trend of needing to find ways to engage an even wider part of the population to raise funds.
Our philanthropic and business institutions have recognized that need, and have made it exceptionally easy to donate through a variety of platforms including directly to causes at the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines’ GiveDSM platform, more broadly to the recently launched Disaster Recovery Fund, or to small businesses via the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Small Business Recovery Grant.
Everyone is in a different boat, and many have already met the call to give and give at greater levels regardless of the stimulus check. But if you are in financial position, and have the capacity to use your stimulus grant, at whatever level possible, consider doing so to help make sure all our boats are better prepared to handle the COVID-19 storm.