In 2001, conservative lobbyist Grover Norquist, a former ally of Ronald Reagan and small government proponents, famously said, “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”
Well, the pandemic may have achieved that goal.
Here in the Northeast, we have been faithful mask-wearers and social distancers. As a result, we have been rewarded with a low infection rate, and life is slowly going back to normal-ish. Sure, we still wear masks everywhere, but we are going everywhere, and businesses are back in operation.
In the past few weeks, I have gone to physical therapy. I have taken Ian to a pile of doctor’s appointments – blood testing center, ENT, neurologist. Jonah has gone to the dentist and pediatrician. All those medical professionals are back to work within inches of other human beings.
We have had a pile of workers in the house to repair the water-damaged family room. Painters, an electrician, a plumber, the contractor have all been working hard downstairs.
We have gone out to dinner. Last night, I had a marvelous meal for my birthday. Before that, I got dolled up at the beauty salon and the nail salon for the first time since February. Restaurant staff, nail lady, and hair cutter – all back to work.
We refinanced our mortgage this week. So, Steve went down to the bank to move money around; bankers were back to business. The notary-lady sat in our living room – with a mask, mind you – and we signed a pile of paperwork. A chatty woman, she stayed much longer than necessary to tell us about her career and weight-loss regime.
I tell you this for three reasons. One is to point out that with proper precautions, we can still work and live through this pandemic, even before a vaccine happens. Two is to point out that a whole lot of people, not just those deemed to be “essential” workers, are back to work. And three is to tell you what they’ve been telling me.
Oh my. I’m hearing stories. And not good ones.
This pandemic has been very cruel on people who live on the margins of society. Those people rely on government programs for survival, and those government offices have been shuttered since March. I’ll share a couple of two horrible stories.
My physical therapist has a side gig working for Early Intervention. Early Intervention is a state program that identifies children under the age of three who have disabilities and then provides them with therapy until the age of three, when the school district takes over. Years ago, they diagnosed Ian with a speech delay at age 2-1/2 and provided him with therapy three days a week.
Early Invention hasn’t functioned since March. So that means there are kids — some with extremely rough versions of autism and behavioral issues — who have had no help for six months. All the research says that it is super important to do intensive work on children with neurological issues, while they are very young. Those kids might be permanently behind, because they’ve missed so much therapy. Families are trying to handle kids with behavior problems entirely on their own.
Older people aren’t getting the help they need either. I’m hearing stories about seniors who are completely neglected in bedbug ridden apartments, because social services hasn’t been there to check on them.
If schools stay shutdown this fall, then another major element of the government safety net won’t work. Again, the most vulnerable are going to be the poor and disabled. This is such a train wreck.
I’m not a huge fan of Bill deBlasio. I think he should have shutdown the city much earlier than he did. But I think he’s right to push for school to open up this fall, now that the rates are so low around here. Kids are going to die without schools.
I am extremely pessimistic about school openings this fall. Teachers are getting doctor’s notes to get out of in-person teaching. The plans for opening are very complicated and aren’t centered around education. If middle class parents give up and send their kids to private schools, they will NEVER go back and they will vote down every school tax budget.
There’s a sizable orthodox Jewish community in the New York/New Jersey area. They typically send their children to private schools, so when they move en masse to a particular community, they vote down all education tax bills for the public schools. They even run for school board positions, so they can more effectively cut funding to most public school programs, except special education, which they use. If middle class families leave the public system, this will happen everywhere. If they don’t use the public schools, they won’t fund them.
There is definitely a liberal case for reopening safely and ending the shutdown. I think we need to consider all options.