Up & Coming Weekly

February 28, 2023

Up and Coming Weekly is a weekly publication in Fayetteville, NC and Fort Bragg, NC area offering local news, views, arts, entertainment and community event and business information.

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WWW.UPANDCOMINGWEEKLY.COM MARCH 1 - 7, 2023 UCW 5 OPINION JOHN HOOD, Board Member, John Locke Foundation. COMMENTS? Editor@upandcomingweekly.com. 910-484-6200 We will probably never know how much of our money was squan- dered during the pandemic by reckless politicians. But here are two damning numbers to start with: $400 billion and $855,000 per job year. e first is a reasonable estimate of unemployment-insurance pay- ments either improperly paid or stolen by fraudulent claimants. As you may remember, one early congressional response to the onset of COVID-19 was to add a bonus of $600 a week to UI checks and to make it easier for people to claim those benefits. Essentially, politicians turned UI into an honor system. Of course, dishonorable people pounced. A few days ago, the U.S. Depart- ment of Labor's inspector general announced that at "the low end" $191 billion was paid to people who didn't qualify but that missing data and delayed reporting prevented a full accounting. Matt Weidinger, an American En- terprise Institute scholar and former staffer at the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, puts the total amount of improper UI payments at closer to $400 billion, or 40% of the total. "Significant shares were likely stolen by overseas criminal gangs, including in China and Russia," Weidinger observes, and their schemes often began by stealing identities. at's what happened to me. I teach part-time at Duke University. A couple of years ago, university officials contacted me to ask why I, an adjunct faculty member, had filed an unemployment-insurance claim. I assured them I'd done no such thing. I submitted paperwork to Duke and reported the incident to law enforcement. Alas, it is my understanding that at least some UI payments were paid to my identity thief, anyway. Now for the other number: $855,000 per job year. at's the es- timate AEI scholar Stan Veuger and University of California-San Diego economist Jeffrey Clemens put on the amount of COVID-era federal aid distributed to states and locali- ties to prevent government layoffs divided by the number of positions that could reasonably be construed as "saved" per year by that aid. As I've argued many times before, the federal government's multi- trillion-dollar fiscal response to the pandemic was panicky and exces- sive. North Carolina was among the jurisdictions that received far more (borrowed) federal cash than was needed to cover revenues lost or new expenditures truly necessitated by the disease itself and the eco- nomic consequences of COVID-era shutdowns. e best defense of all this is that politicians were mistaken but acting in good faith, that hindsight is 20- 20. It's a poor defense. Critics warned at the time that ex- panding the eligibility and amounts of UI benefits would have adverse consequences, both wasting money and slowing reemployment, and that states and localities didn't need the massive sums Congress was about to throw at them. But many politicians had long sought to expand unemployment insurance and the federal govern- ment's role in funding state and local governments. ey capitalized on the crisis — with other people's capital. e only way to prevent this from happening again is to erect legal guardrails. Veuger and Clemens suggest, for example, that Congress should either institute preset formulas instead of a discretionary process for granting aid or that federal grant programs should be converted to loans that states and localities must repay. Such steps are worth taking but we need to be thinking even bigger. With unemployment insurance, for example, we ought to devolve the program more comprehensively to state governments, forbid any ex- tended benefits funded by Washing- ton, and make it more expensive for states to borrow federal funds when their UI trust funds run out. at will encourage state policy- makers to police fraud more aggres- sively and keep their benefits in line with fiscal realities. More generally, we need to get the federal government's finances under control. ere should be a constitutional requirement that its operating bud- get be balanced, and that it borrow only to fund physical capital such as federal buildings and military assets. Let's do something. e next crisis will again test the willpower of poli- ticians. ey'll fail again. Editor's note: John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member. His latest books, Mountain Folk and Forest Folk, combine epic fantasy with early American history. ey are available at FolkloreCycle.com. Yes, they'll waste our money again by JOHN HOOD Reckless politicians have a way of squandering money with personal agendas and disregard for taxpayers. It is time to hold them accountable. Christian music station local your

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