Remember the stimulus check?

Cash payments give Americans economic support in stormy times

Notebook with Stimulus Check for $1,200, Jernej Furman is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Opinion

Editor’s note: The Sierra Nevada Ally is inviting local writers to pen approved opinion columns for the publication. We invited the Citizens’ Climate Lobby to write columns on climate change issues. 

COVID-19 is a public health crisis, and it has rippled out into the worst economic crisis since the Great Recession of 2008. Businesses are closing, and the US unemployment rate hit a high of 14.7 percent in April, nearly 5 points higher than the peak unemployment rate of the 2008 recession. The April unemployment rate in Nevada was 30 percent. And we’re still the highest in the nation at 13 percent. Nevada has been especially hard hit because tourism and hospitality are such a big part of our economy. All across America, people are feeling unprecedented economic pain.

Coronavirus stimulus checks helped ease the economic pain

To help, Congress passed an emergency relief package, known as the CARES Act, and the President signed it into law back in March. The CARES Act authorized the federal government to send $1,200 to most adults and $500 to most children. These direct cash payments provided economic assistance to American workers and families, injecting $265 billion into the economy.

“We need cash in the hands of affected families,” said Republican Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR).

“So many people in this country are worried about what happens when their mortgage/rent/car payments/bills are due,” Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA-43) posted on Twitter.

Only taxpayers earning less than $99,000/year ($198,000 for couples) qualified for the stimulus check. They spent that money on food, healthcare, rent, mortgages, credit card debt, and computers for students who must now attend school online during the pandemic. Direct cash payments are an effective tool for helping Americans weather economic turbulence. That’s why the President and Congress keep coming back to the idea of a second stimulus check in coronavirus relief negotiations, though all negotiations are on hold as of this writing.

Stimulus checks could help us weather the next crisis

When Congress turns its attention to climate change—another looming crisis—it should not forget this lesson: Direct cash payments are a simple, transparent, and fair way to support Americans when economic winds are shifting.

To deal with climate change, we must stop emitting greenhouse gases, which trap excess heat in our atmosphere and warm the planet. When we burn fossil fuels, we emit carbon, a greenhouse gas. To reduce emissions, we need to retool our economy from fossil fuels to clean energy.

How do we accelerate this transition to an economy fueled by clean energy? How about charging a price for carbon pollution? That would push up fossil fuel prices. When prices go up,  people and businesses look for substitutes. Our economy will move away from using fossil fuels towards demanding more clean energy.

There is a bill in front of Congress right now that would put a price on carbon pollution, H.R. 763. If enacted into law, the policy will reduce America’s emissions by at least 40 percent within 12 years. It’s supported by economists and scientists as simple, comprehensive, and effective.

This bill also lays out how to use the money collected from carbon pollution fees. The IRS would send it directly to all Americans on a monthly basis. Cash payments put Americans in the driver’s seat because they decide how to spend it: pay bills, buy groceries, learn new job skills, buy a more energy-efficient car, or whatever they choose.

This is especially important for low- and middle-income Americans, who might otherwise struggle with cost increases as we shift to a clean energy economy. A recently released study looked at the economic impact on US households. It concluded that 68 percent of people would come out ahead, with the poorest households benefiting the most. Almost everyone else breaks even. Only 8 percent of people have minor increased costs. By putting a price on carbon pollution and using the money to send Americans a check, H.R. 763 will reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent, and nearly all Americans will come out ahead or break even.

Unique opportunity for Nevada

A price on carbon pollution will accelerate the transition to an economy fueled by clean energy. Nevada is in a good position to take advantage of this opportunity. We rank second in the US for electricity generated from geothermal energy and have more solar potential than any state. In May, the Department of the Interior approved the Gemini Solar Project, a 690-megawatt facility that will generate enough solar power to serve 400,000 homes. It’s the largest solar power facility that’s been approved in the US.

Clean energy is a growth sector with good-paying jobs for Nevadans. It also helps us diversify our economy. Since the 2008 recession, it’s been painfully clear that our economy is overly reliant on tourism. Today, one out of three jobs in Nevada is related to tourism according to the Nevada Resort Association. While there’s no easy answer, the clean energy industry will help us diversify the job base. Some workers will need to develop new skills as they transfer to new industries. Having a little extra cash from a stimulus check could ease that transition for workers.

As we’ve seen in the current crisis, cash dividends paid out by the federal government are transparent and easy to track. That visibility helps people, including our elected officials, stay focused on the problem at hand. Right now, it’s the pandemic. Soon, it’ll be climate change.

It’s clear that money in the hands of Americans helps keep our economy running. When the pandemic is over, let’s use that same tool to combat climate change.


Michelle Hamilton is a member of the Reno-Sparks chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Mark Reynolds is the Executive Director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.


The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of the Sierra Nevada Ally. Our newsroom remains entirely independent of our opinion page. Published opinions further public conversation to fulfill our civic responsibility to challenge authority, act independently of corporate or political influence, and invite dissent.