Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Stimulus Package

Copy of my letter published in the News Herald

To the editor:

This past week marked the one year anniversary of the Economic Recovery Act, better known as the stimulus package. Much debate has taken place with the usual perspectives in full force; Republicans/conservatives claiming it has done nothing and calling it a huge government waste, Democrats/liberals touting that it staved off financial collapse and has saved and/or created a few million jobs. Everyone seems in agreement that we are far from clear of the recession but consensus on how to proceed continues to polarize the country.

For me, I have no doubt that the stimulus package did some good as it has helped me and my family directly. Let me explain. Unfortunately, I lost my job on January 4 of this year. I was in sales in the transportation industry. My job consisted primarily of maintaining my account base while bringing on new business. I periodically visited about 200 local businesses in a typical 2 month period. As I only started this job in May 2007, I was witness to the reduction in business both for my company and my customers beginning in late 2008. On a weekly basis, especially at the end of 2008 and the first half of 2009, I experienced the loss of customers due to bankruptcy and the loss of contacts due to layoffs and job eliminations. In some cases, my customers dropped employees that may have not been pulling their weight, in other cases, mid-level managers and supervisors, some with 12, 15 even 20 years experience, were let go to save money. There just wasn't enough orders. No orders meant less employees, and less shipping business for me. And, while some businesses began shipping again as 2009 drew to a close, hiring did not follow as companies focused on improving their bottom line. The recession was all too real to me then and it was clear that businesses by themselves were not in a position to move us out of its grip.

Which brings us back to the stimulus program. Many people are unaware of this but it included a subsidy to help defray the cost of COBRA for anyone who lost their job from Dec 2008 through Feb 2010. In my case, a COBRA payment that would have been an unreachable $1500 a month for the exact same coverage I had for myself and family while employed dropped to just over $500 a month. While still quite a sum of money for someone unemployed, it gave me at least the opportunity to pay for a few months coverage while searching for something new. Without it, my family would have joined the ranks of the uninsured. And, to be honest, even with this subsidy, I may be faced with a decision to drop coverage if I can't secure a new full time position in the next few months. For those of you who believe that our health care system does not need reform, check with your employer to see what your COBRA cost would be should you lose your job. And for those who think that no one has benefitted from the stimulus package, I would imagine that since unemployment is close to 10%, you probably know a number of people who have benefitted. If not personally, then certainly you are encountering them in your neighborhood. They are in line at the grocery store with you. Or in the stands at your son's basketball game. They are ex-coworkers, your friends' cousins, the clerks at your local pharmacy or department store.

Was the stimulus program perfect? Of course not; it contained the usual pork and big money for large political contributors and special interest groups. But it is providing some money for the millions of unemployed people and their families so they can continue to eat and pay their mortgage. And it is helping untold American families (like mine) to at least have a shot at affordable healthcare coverage at a time when they can least afford to lose that coverage.

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