Hospitals to face bumpy recovery with depressed margins into 2021, S&P predicts

April was the worst month ever for hospital operating margins

Dive Brief:

  • Despite rebounding patient volumes at some health systems, an overall slow and bumpy recovery period is most likely to last into next year, according to analysts with S&P Global Ratings. Operating margins will remain below historic levels for the rest of 2020 and into early 2021.
  • The ratings agency took negative action against companies in health sub-sectors facing more sudden and dramatic declines in business and now face less certain paths to recovery than others, such as dental companies, along with physical therapy and ambulatory surgery centers.
  • Medical staffing and physician groups were also downgraded or had their outlooks revised, due to major declines in emergency room and doctors office visits​ coupled with declining demand for anesthesia and radiology services related to delayed surgeries.

Dive Insight:

Federal relief grants are helping offset major financial losses for some health systems in the short-term, but factors like a second surge causing another total lockdown, rising unemployment and hesitancy from patients as they return to medical settings make long-term prospects unpredictable.

S&P Global Ratings said in a report this week that it took 36 negative actions in health services companies during the pandemic. The most affected sub-sector was dental companies. It also changed outlooks on ambulatory surgery centers given significant volume declines.

Hospitals and home healthcare were rated at moderate to high financial risk, though analysts expect those businesses to recover faster due to the more essential nature of their services, according to the report. And in the short-term, government relief funds will help bolster hospitals’ liquidity as they attempt to return to normal operations and recover from steep losses.

Delayed elective care that’s just restarting in some states led most hospitals to the financial fallout. But even hospitals treating a large number of COVID-19 patients will be hurt, as these patients are expensive to treat due to higher supply and labor costs, the report said.

It also found that nonprofit and for-profit operators could fare differently in their financial recoveries. Non-profit hospitals generally have larger cash reserves than for profit systems, which rely instead almost exclusively on cash flow and borrowings for liquidity.

Providers are relying specifically on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act which allocated $100 billion for providers that they don’t have to pay back, though there has been some criticism about how the money was distributed and whether it advantages some providers over others.

Kaiser Family Foundation report found that CARES funding tends to favor for profit, higher margin hospitals with a higher mix of private payer revenue compared to those that rely on government payers such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Other legislation to help financially struggling health systems include advanced Medicare payments in the form of loans that must be paid back roughly four months after they are received.

The Paycheck Protection and Healthcare Enhancement Act passed in late April gave providers an additional $75 billion, though calculation and distribution methods have yet to be determined.

The U.S. House of Representatives also passed a $3 trillion bill dubbed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act that allocates $100 billion for provider reimbursement and creates special enrollment periods for Medicare and Affordable Care Act plans, though the Trump administration said it’s too soon for additional relief funding.

Lab companies were put in the moderate risk category, and seeing a “40% decline in lab tests net of COVID testing,” S&P said.

Still, it said despite the drop in overall testing for LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics, S&P predicted “their services to become even more important, and for their services to recover reasonably well as testing related to the pandemic continues to grow and as medical procedures and physician visits ramp-up through the rest of the year and into 2021.”




Congress headed toward unemployment showdown

Alabama Starts Giving $600 Federal Stimulus Payments to the ...

A debate over whether to extend enhanced unemployment benefits is emerging as a significant obstacle to getting a deal on another round of coronavirus relief legislation.

With the national unemployment rate expected to creep toward 20 percent in the months ahead, the fight over whether to boost benefits for Americans who lose their jobs or to keep benefits lean to motivate laid-off employees to rejoin the workforce is set to become a defining issue ahead of the election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says that Senate Republicans don’t have any interest in extending the $600 federal increase to state unemployment benefits that was a core component of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act.

The enhanced benefits are due to expire at the end of July, making them a principal topic of the upcoming negotiations.

McConnell told House GOP lawmakers in a conference call Wednesday that the Senate will not extend the beefed-up federal unemployment benefits, which GOP senators say has become a disincentive for middle- and lower-wage workers to return to the job.

But not all Republicans are on board with McConnell.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said “my inclination would say that that’s going to have to continue for a while.”

“I get it, I talk to a lot of business people in Kansas — and South Carolina — about that and the disincentive if you continue to pay it to work. So I say it’s a tough a choice. But I think under the circumstances it should be continued in some form,” he added.

The employment picture grew darker on Thursday after the Labor Department announced that another 2.4 million Americans filed unemployment claims last week, bringing the total for the past nine weeks to 38 million new claims.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R), who faces a tough reelection race in North Carolina, said he wants to wait and see how the unemployment numbers play out.

“I think a lot of it really depends on how well the business openings go. I for one think that anything we do has to be tailored to where we’re not in the situation where the benefit’s greater than the salary it was replacing,” he said.

Other Republicans, however, say there is strong support for shutting off the federal boost to unemployment insurance after July.

“They think it is a huge disincentive to get the economy back and growing again. They’re not happy it was done in the first place,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who helped craft the unemployment benefits section of the CARES Act, referring to complaints he has heard from GOP colleagues about the beefed-up benefits.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Thursday warned: “When the government wage exceeds the market wage you’ll get institutionalized unemployment.”

“It was a mistake to make it so high to begin with. It would be a mistake to extend it,” he added. “If you favor extending it, basically you’re favoring institutionalized unemployment.”

Other Republicans are raising concerns that adding $600 in federal assistance to weekly state unemployment compensation creates a benefit that exceeds the hourly wage for many jobs in their states.

“I think it needs to end,” said Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.). “Hopefully the economy will start to be getting back on track and we’ll be able to get rid of it.”

Portman has proposed a bill that he hopes will give laid-off workers incentive to give up their enhanced benefits and look for new jobs before the July 31 expiration of the $600 federal add-on.

His legislation would let these workers continue collecting $450 of the $600 weekly benefit if they find work in the next nine weeks.

This sets up a major fight with Democrats, who see expanded unemployment benefits as the most effective way to help Americans hit hardest economically by the pandemic.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democrats have passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill that would extend the $600 federal add-on to state unemployment benefits through July.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said Democrats “absolutely” will insist on extending the federal increase to state unemployment benefits.

“It’s been a longtime Republican plan to reduce the amount of UI to workers, to shrink the number of weeks and to make fewer people eligible. In Ohio, only a quarter of unemployed workers are eligible for Ohio unemployment,” he said.

He said Democrats will make extending the program a top priority.

“Democrats are the party of workers, clearly, and they aren’t,” he said of his GOP colleagues.

The debate is just beginning, but it will grow heated in the weeks ahead as both sides begin to negotiate in earnest the size and scope of the next relief bill.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) predicted: “Republicans will catch … hell back home when they try to explain cutting off unemployment.”

He also predicted fallout for not reforming the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program or providing more aid to state and local governments.

Durbin warned that failing to extend enhanced unemployment benefits would be a “disastrous mistake.”

“The economists tell us it is probably the single best stimulus that we can put into this economy,” he said

Durbin said if McConnell blocks extending beefed-up unemployment benefits past July 31, there will be hardship across America and in the commonwealth of Kentucky that “he doesn’t even begin to contemplate at this moment.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who was a competitive candidate in the Democratic presidential primary and whose support is seen as crucial to turning out voters in the fall, also weighed in Thursday.

“Republicans are going nuts about the $600 per week expanded unemployment benefits that workers now receive. Imagine that! Americans not forced to live on starvation wages. What a frightening precedent. What will they want next? Health care as a human right?” Sanders tweeted Thursday afternoon.

Some Democratic moderates, however, have signaled in private talks that they’re open to negotiating with Republicans to scaling down the $600 in additional weekly assistance after July.

A Republican source familiar with the preliminary talks said that moderate Sens. Christopher Coons (D-Del.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) have expressed interest in finding a compromise.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) has also signaled a willingness in reviewing the impact of the generous federal payment on people rejoining the workforce.





HCA asks union to abandon wage increases this year

HCA revenue beats the hospital chain's expectations in 2019

A union representing more than 150,000 registered nurses in hundreds of U.S. hospitals is disputing with Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA Healthcare regarding pay and benefits.

National Nurses United said HCA is demanding that the union choose between an undetermined number of layoffs and no 401(k) match for this year or no layoffs and no nurse pay increases for the rest of the year, according to ABC affiliate Kiii TV.

HCA Healthcare, which to date has avoided layoffs due to the pandemic, told Becker’s Hospital Review it is asking the union to give up their demand for wage increases this year, just as nonunion employees have. HCA executive leadership, corporate and division colleagues and hospital executives have also taken pay cuts.  

The union said it takes issue with having to make this choice given HCA’s profits in the last decade, the additional funding the for-profit hospital operator received from the federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, and additional Medicare loans.

“It is outrageous for HCA to use the cover of the pandemic to swell its massive profits at the expense of its dedicated caregivers and the patients who will also be harmed by cuts in nursing staff,” Malinda Markowitz, RN, California Nurses Association/National Nurses United president, said in a news release.

HCA pointed to the pandemic pay program it implemented and recently extended through at least the end of June that allows employees who are called off or affected by a facility closure and cannot be redeployed to receive 70 percent of their base pay.

“It is surprising and frankly disappointing that unions would demand pay raises for their members and may reject the continuation of a generous pay program that is providing continued paychecks for more the 100,000 colleagues,” HCA said in a statement. “The goal of HCA Healthcare’s pandemic pay program is to keep our caregivers employed and receiving paychecks at a time when hospitals throughout the country are experiencing significant declines in patient volume and there is not enough work for them.”

HCA said more than 16,000 union members have participated in the pandemic pay program, even though it is not part of their contract. 





Many Jobs May Vanish Forever as Layoffs Mount

Week 9 of the Collapse of the U.S. Labor Market: Still Getting ...

With over 38 million U.S. unemployment claims in nine weeks, one economist says the situation is “grimmer than we thought.”

Even as restrictions on businesses began lifting across the United States, another 2.4 million workers filed for jobless benefits last week, the government reported Thursday, bringing the total to 38.6 million in nine weeks.

And while the Labor Department has found that a large majority of laid-off workers expect their joblessness to be temporary, there is growing concern among economists that many jobs will never come back.

“I hate to say it, but this is going to take longer and look grimmer than we thought,” Nicholas Bloom, an economist at Stanford University, said of the path to recovery.

Mr. Bloom, a co-author of an analysis of the coronavirus epidemic’s effects on the labor market, estimates that 42 percent of recent layoffs will result in permanent job loss.

“Firms intend to hire these people back,” Mr. Bloom said, referring to a recent survey of businesses done by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. “But we know from the past that these aspirations often don’t turn out to be true.”

In this case, the economy that comes back is likely to look quite different from the one that closed. If social distancing rules become the new normal, causing thinner crowds in restaurants, theaters and stores, at sports arenas, and on airplanes, then fewer workers will be required.

Large companies already expect more of their workers to continue to work remotely and say they plan to reduce their real estate footprint, which will, in turn, reduce the foot traffic that feeds nearby restaurants, shops, nail salons and other businesses.

Concerns about working in close quarters and too much social interaction could also accelerate the trend toward automation, some economists say.

New jobs, mostly at low wages — as delivery drivers, warehouse workers and cleaners — are being created. But many more jobs will vanish.

“I think we’re in for a very long haul,” Mr. Bloom said.

In the meantime, the Labor Department’s latest data on unemployment claims, for new filings last week, reflects the shutdown’s continuing damage to the labor force.

“The hemorrhaging has continued,” Torsten Slok, chief economist for Deutsche Bank Securities, said of the mounting job losses. He expects the official jobless rate for May to approach 20 percent, up from the 14.7 percent reported by the Labor Department for April.

A household survey from the Census Bureau released Wednesday suggested that the pain was widespread: 47 percent of adults said they or a member of their household had lost employment income since mid-March. Nearly 40 percent expected the loss to continue over the next four weeks.

In testimony before the Senate on Tuesday, the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, emphasized how devastating prolonged joblessness can be for individual households and for the economy.

“There is clear evidence that when you have a situation where people are unemployed for long periods of time, that can permanently weigh on their careers and their ability to go back to work,” he said.

Emergency relief and expanded unemployment benefits that Congress approved in late March have helped tide households over. Roughly three-quarters of people who are eligible for a $1,200 stimulus payment from the federal government have received it, according to the Treasury Department.

Workers who have successfully applied for unemployment benefits are getting the extra $600 weekly supplement from the federal government, and most states have finally begun to carry out the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which extends benefits to freelancers, self-employed workers and others who don’t routinely qualify. The total number of new pandemic insurance claims reported, though, was inflated by nearly a million because of a data entry mistake from Massachusetts, according to the state’s Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.

Mistakes, lags in reporting and processing, and weeding out duplicate claims and reports have clouded the unemployment picture in some places.

What is clear, though, is that many states are still struggling to keep up with the overwhelming demand, drawing desperate complaints from jobless workers who have been waiting two months or more to receive their first benefit check. Indiana, Wyoming, Hawaii and Missouri are among the states with large backlogs of incompletely processed claims. Another is Kentucky, where nearly one in three workers are unemployed.

The $600 supplement has become a point of contention, drawing criticism from Republican politicians who object to the notion that some workers — particularly low-wage ones — are getting more money in unemployment benefits than they would on the job. But many have also lost their employer-provided health insurance and other benefits.

Sami Adamson, a freelance scenic artist for theater, events and television shows, received the letter with her login credentials to collect benefits from New Jersey only Monday, more than two months after she first applied.

She said her partner, who is in the same line of work, had filed for jobless benefits in New York and quickly received his payments.

By the time she heard from New Jersey, a design studio had called her for a temporary assignment. She plans to eventually reclaim the lost weeks of benefits, but for now she is helping to make face shields in a large warehouse where assembly-line workers are spaced apart, handling plastic, foam and elastic.

“I don’t think I’ll need aid for the next two or three weeks,” Ms. Adamson said, “but I’m not sure too far ahead of that.”

Nearly half of the states have yet to provide the additional 13 weeks of unemployment insurance that the federal government has promised to those who exhausted their state benefits. Workers in Florida — which provides just 12 weeks of benefits, the fewest anywhere — are particularly feeling this pinch. And while several states, including those that pay the average of 26 weeks, have offered additional weeks of coverage during the pandemic, Florida has not.

Small-business owners who were hoping the Paycheck Protection Program would enable them to keep their workers on the payroll contend the program is not operating as intended.

Roy Surdej, who owns Peaches Boutique in Chicago, applied for a loan after he was forced to close and the pandemic eliminated the season’s wave of proms, quinceañeras and graduation celebrations were canceled.

Under the program, the loan turns into a grant if he rehires the 100-person staff he had built up in February in anticipation of selling thousands of ruffled, sequined and strappy dresses during the spring rush. But he said that would be impossible, given the income he had lost and the restrictions that continue to pre-empt social gatherings.

“No way can I qualify for full forgiveness,” said Mr. Surdej, who said revenue had dried up. “It’s devastating for us,” he added, saying he had no clue when he would be able to reopen and begin rehiring. “If the government can’t adjust the dates to allow us to use it properly so we can survive, then I won’t use it.”

At the same time, the Congressional Budget Office warned that businesses able to use the Paycheck Protection Program might end up laying off workers when the program expires at the end of June.

Several states have warned workers that they risk losing their benefits if they refuse an offer to work. Federal rules enacted during the pandemic say that workers are not compelled to return to unsafe working conditions, but just what constitutes such conditions is not necessarily clear.

On Tuesday, Democratic senators sent a letter to Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia to “clarify the circumstances” so that workers are not “forced to choose between going back to work in unsafe conditions, or continuing to social distance and losing their only source of income.”

Workers with child care responsibilities can stay on unemployment if public schools are closed, but once the term ends, a lack of day care or summer programs is not considered a legitimate reason. Nor are self-imposed quarantines.

Officials can lift stay-at-home and business restrictions, but then what happens? “There are lingering concerns about health, family situations, kids not in school, relatives who are sick and needing care,” said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust. “There’s going to be a very slow and gradual process of reopening and restoring employment beyond just a declaration from the statehouse or the county seat.”




CommonSpirit posts $1.4B loss, says full COVID-19 impact unknown

Locations | CommonSpirit Health

Dive Brief:

  • CommonSpirit Health, sprung from last year’s merger of California-based Dignity Health and Colorado-based Catholic Health Initiatives, reported a loss topping $1.4 billion in the fiscal third quarter ending March 31, although adjusted revenues were flat compared to the third quarter of 2019. The biggest proportion of losses were tied to investments, as its portfolio dropped in value by nearly $1.1 billion. Its total net assets are down nearly $2.5 billion from a year ago.
  • Like many other hospital systems, CommonSpirit reported a drop in patient volumes that began in mid-March as states began issuing lockdown orders. Acute admissions dropped more than 5% for the quarter compared to a year ago.
  • CommonSpirit did receive more than $700 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds, although since it was received on March 31 it will be booked into its fiscal fourth quarter financial statements. The system received another $2.6 billion in accelerated payments from CMS and anticipates receiving another $410 million in disaster relief funding and from the Paycheck Protection Program.​

Dive Insight:

The COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to ravage the bottom lines of providers, and the nation’s largest not-for-profit hospital system, CommonSpirit Health, is no exception.

Its first full year as a unified system is 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic is challenging the 134-hospital organization in ways it likely never anticipated. Admissions are down for the foreseeable future, coupled with the need to spend tens of millions of dollars on personal protective equipment, respirators and to divert a significant amount of resources toward treating coronavirus patients.

Fitch Ratings said COVID-19 is to blame for the worst second quarter for most U.S. hospitals and systems.

For the third quarter of 2020, CommonSpirit reported an operating loss of $145 million, compared to a pro forma $124 million loss reported by Dignity and CHI for the first quarter of 2019.

CommonSpirit posted a net loss of $1.4 billion for the third quarter, compared to a pro forma net gain of $9.7 billion for the third quarter of 2019. However, $9.2 billion of that came from what CommonSpirit termed a “contribution from business combination,” the net assets received from both parties by merging with one another. For the first nine months of fiscal 2020, CommonSpirit lost $1.1 billion on revenue of $22.4 billion, compared to a net gain of $9.5 billion on revenue of $21.6 billion over the same period in fiscal 2019.

And despite receiving some $3.7 billion in federal assistance, CommonSpirit said in its quarterly financial disclosures that it remains too soon to tell what the impact of COVID-19 will be on the organization over the long-term.

Prior to the pandemic, CommonSpirit’s financial position was trending stronger compared to its pre-merger state. Seven of its 14 operating divisions reported a jump in revenue during the quarter compared to 2019.





Administration’s Handling of Coronavirus Threatens a Long Unemployment Crisis

The Trump Administration’s Handling of Coronavirus Threatens a Long Unemployment Crisis

The Trump Administration's Handling of Coronavirus Threatens a ...

On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release employment numbers for April that are expected to show a tragic and historic increase in unemployment. Consensus estimates anticipate more than 20 million jobs lost and an unemployment rate of 16 percent—a figure that may well be an underestimate given that millions of people may not be looking for jobs, effectively exiting the labor force and reducing the labor force participation rate. Moreover, state-level unemployment claims data show that this economic pain is being felt across the country, with sharp rises in joblessness in every state. And Thursday’s jobless claims release suggests that job losses have continued at high levels since the April unemployment survey was taken.

While the immediate cause of this spike in joblessness is, of course, the necessary stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures taken to respond to the crisis, the rise in unemployment—and how long it lasts—cannot be separated from choices made by the Trump administration. In understanding the state of the economy, as well as what comes next, the following three elements of this crisis must be understood:

  1. The economic crisis we are facing—and the economic pain we expect in the months ahead—is the result of a failed public health response. The Trump administration ignored early warnings, misled the public, and made the coronavirus crisis worse. The fact that the administration bungled the testing regime early on in the crisis meant that the United States could never contain the virus, as other countries such as South Korea, New Zealand, and Taiwan have done. As a consequence of that failure, the United States has had to engage in social distancing that has meant economic shock in order to avoid significantly greater levels of infections and deaths. The depth and scope of the economic pain being felt is a consequence of the administration’s delayed response and complete failure take leadership during this crisis.
  2. The administration’s inability to put in place appropriate public health measures going forward—combined with its insistence that efforts to contain the virus should be lifted in the absence of those measures—is likely to not only prolong the public health crisis but also extend the economic pain. Rather than provide workers, businesses, and families the confidence that they can return to activity safely, the administration is taking steps that try to ignore the risk of infection, such as absolving employers of responsibility for worker safety through a liability shield or forcing workers to return to work even when they have concerns about their health. In this environment, we are likely to see decreased demand for some time to come because people will have little confidence in individual state reopening strategies disconnected from science—as we are already seeing across the country.
  3. By rejecting efforts that would support families, workers, and communities during this crisis, the administration and its allies in Congress are putting us on a path for continued double-digit unemployment even after the pandemic finally ends. Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that the unemployment rate—absent additional action—will be near 10 percent at the end of 2021, several months after they project social distancing as a result of the health crisis abates. By opposing efforts to provide sufficient aid to states and localities; relief to families and unemployed workers; and assistance to those struggling the most, President Donald Trump, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and their allies are insisting on making this extended period of double-digit unemployment a reality.

There is an alternative path, however: Taking the necessary steps to address the public health crisis and ensure that people can go back to work safely and doing what is needed to address the immediate economic pain and avoid prolonged unemployment. As Congress and the administration consider an additional stimulus package, they should put in place necessary public health protections while providing robust aid to families, workers, and communities for as long as the crisis lasts. This will allow us to avoid double-digit unemployment from being a devastating reality for American families for the next year and a half or more.

Public health failures has driven unemployment up

The rise in unemployment over the past two months is a direct consequence of the public health crisis—one that could have taken a far less severe toll under an administration that had been better prepared for it and that had approached it more wisely. The Trump administration has failed to develop an evidence-based plan to end the coronavirus crisis. Instead, its mismanagement has resulted in widespread fear and uncertainty as to when it might be appropriate to reopen parts of the economy. President Trump did not take the pandemic seriously when cases first emerged in the United States; his administration failed to use the month of April—when the nation was largely shut down—to ramp up the testing, contact tracing, and other pieces necessary for the public health response. And now, Trump is pushing states to reopen too soon. Before people feel comfortable enough to once again venture out of their homes and reengage in work and other economic activities, we need to ensure the country has developed the necessary health infrastructure to allow us to gradually reopen our economy without sparking a second wave of infections.

The economic crisis cannot end until public health crisis is solved

The Trump administration and its allies are arguing that the way to solve the economic crisis is to open up the country, ending stay-at-home orders and engaging in aggressive efforts to force business to return to normal. But in the absence of public health measures that actually allow activity to return safely, the administration’s strategy appears to be one of “ignore and press on,” with potentially devastating results for workers and communities. This strategy includes:

  • Pushing communities to lift stay-at-home orders and other public health measures before sufficient testing, tracing, isolation and ongoing surveillance is in place
  • Forcing workers back on the job, even without sufficient personal protective equipment or workplace safety protections—whether by removing unemployment insurance for those who are recalled to unsafe situations or through executive actions such as those taken for the meatpacking industry
  • Proposing to absolve employers of the responsibility to keep workers and communities safe through blanket immunity from liability—a measure that would do nothing to keep workers safe or build confidence in economic reopening

These steps reflect an acceptance of elevated risks of transmission, and ultimately, death. And despite the president’s rhetoric, it will make it less likely that the economy can return faster.

First, it is clear that the public isn’t going to feel safe to return to normal economic activity absent additional public health measures. A recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found that “67 percent say they would be uncomfortable shopping at a retail clothing store, and 78 percent would be uncomfortable eating at a sit-down restaurant.” These results were similar both in states that had loosened restrictions and those that had not and is consistent with other data. As long as people are anxious that returning to normal activities could put them at risk of contracting the virus, the economy will be unable to recover.

Second, a strategy that fails to put in place the necessary protections against spreading the virus will increase transmission among the public, and especially workers, in ways that may force additional shutdowns and prolong the period of public health crisis. In sum, prolonged public health crisis equals a prolonged state of economic distress—extending the number of months with a job market like April’s. The best approach—an approach adopted by other countries who are faring better both with their health outcomes and their economic impacts—is a national plan to fight the virus that is based on testing, tracing, and isolation.

After the pandemic ends, double-digit unemployment will persist under the current course

The CARES act provided large, necessary relief to most Americans, including assistance for workers, families, and small businesses. But this assistance will run out before the economic emergency is behind us, forcing the economy into unnecessarily prolonged hardship.

Indeed, the measures in the CARES Act both leave important gaps and will expire long before the economy is expected to return to normal. States and localities are facing extreme budget shortfalls. If action is not taken before state budget deadlines on July 1, states are likely to begin implementing layoffs of teachers and first responders and service cuts in the coming months that will cause additional job loss. Expanded unemployment insurance benefits expire at the end of July, removing an important lifeline for those out of work. While the direct payments in the CARES Act provided important assistance to families, the $1,200 per person payment will not be enough to sustain households through a prolonged crisis. The initial Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) support for small businesses has run out, and a second round of funding may soon run out too. And in important areas such as housingfood assistancechild care, and health coverage, among others, the CARES Act failed to do enough to address the hardship being felt today, let alone over a prolonged crisis—even as it provided generous aid to corporations.

As a result, under baseline projections—those that assume no further action on the part of the government—double-digit unemployment is expected to be a feature of the economy for at least the next year and a half. As noted above, the CBO estimates that the unemployment rate will remain near 10 percent at the end of 2021—many months after they predict that social distancing due to the pandemic itself ends.

Yet the Trump administration and congressional Republicans have indicated that they are prepared to accept this reality, or at best, offer solutions that do nothing to shift it. White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said that another round of coronavirus relief legislation might not be necessary, and chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Sunday that nothing has been decided yet and that “there’s kind of a pause period right now” and that “we will wait and see.” Senator McConnell has dismissed state and local aid as a “blue state bailout,” despite pain being felt in all states.

To the extent the administration or its allies have signaled a desire to act, they have focused on measures that would be woefully insufficient to address the economic challenges we face. Aside from the liability shield, Trump has signaled a push for poorly targeted corporate tax cuts or a payroll tax cut that would fail to benefit those who are out of work. An illustrative example of Trump’s approach is his call for removing limits on corporate deductions for meals and entertainment—effectively allowing companies to deduct expenses for sports tickets, golf trips, or visits to casinos—which would provide a benefit to corporations and their wealthiest executives but do little to help put money in the hands of those who need it.

A better path: a response that meets the public health and economic challenge

As it considers another package to address this crisis, Congress has the opportunity to take a path that rejects double-digit unemployment as a lasting feature of this crisis. The approach Congress should take would allow economic activity to restart safely and ensure that, as the economy restarts, we are actually getting people back to work rather than accepting a recession that keeps millions unemployed.

First, that requires a sufficient public health response. The purpose of stay-at-home orders in the first place was to suppress transmission to low levels and buy time to put in place extensive testing and contact tracing programs, but we have yet to meet those goals. Nationally, we still need to increase our testing capacity and reach at least 500,000 tests a day; scale up contact tracing—both manually and by apps that meet privacy standards—in order to isolate people who test positive as well as their contacts; and have in place a far more robust disease surveillance system.

And second, it requires an economic response that offers relief that both addresses immediate pain that families, small businesses, and communities are facing and is sufficient to build back to a stronger economy.

In particular, the package must be:

  1. At a scale necessary to address the crisis. We need to pursue a fiscal response that is proportional to both the public health and economic threat posed by COVID-19. The economic consequences of this crisis are staggering. Children are going hungry; households are piling massive debts; millions of homeowners are delaying their mortgage payments; small businesses in hard hit states received fewer loans than others; minority small business owners are struggling to stay open; and state and local governments are preparing for significant layoffs of teachers and first responders in the absence of federal aid. Action needs to be sufficiently large to both address the immediate hardship that families are facing and get the economy back to work. This big push for aid has to be coordinated at the national, state, and local levels. An important lesson form the Great Recession was that austerity at the level of states and localities was a key factor in delaying economic recovery for years, since states were in austerity mode from 2008 until 2012, contributing to lower GDP growth. And, in contrast to concerns raised by some congressional Republicans—concerns that were absent during the passage of nearly $2 trillion in tax cuts in 2017—we have the fiscal capacity to respond robustly, especially with interest rates near zero. Indeed, evidence suggests that increased fiscal stimulus may increase fiscal sustainability.
  2. Sustained for the duration of the crisis. Relief must be sustained, automatic, and available with certainty for as long as it is needed. We should learn from the Great Recession, when stimulus was insufficient and removed too soon. During that crisis, unemployment insurance expired for many workers long before the crisis had passed; fiscal aid ended long before state and fiscal budget cuts ceased being a drag on the recovery. Key measures to support the economy, such as unemployment insurance, state and local aid, and direct relief to families, should automatically extend for the duration of the economic crisis—ensuring that we are providing sufficient relief and necessary stimulus as long as is needed to support a robust recovery.
  3. Targeted to all the areas where Americans are feeling economic hardship. There is no silver bullet that will bring the economy back. We need a multilayered attack that addresses the root cause of the problem—the spread of the virus—and ameliorates its symptoms in the form of hardship for families, workers, small businesses, and communities. Building off the CARES Act, additional aid needs to make sure it is reaching those who have been excluded. That requires ensuring that aid is more completely available—for example, ensuring that immigrant families can access needed relief or closing loopholes that prevent workers from having access to paid leave. It also means providing much needed assistance in areas such as food assistance, child care, housing, and for people with disabilities—areas that would both address concentrated harm and support the economy going forward. Finally, the package should be designed so that—rather than exacerbating structural problems in our economy that benefited corporations over workers—it puts us on a path for a stronger economy once the crisis ends.

The administration and its allies appear content to accept a prolonged period of public health and economic harm that is a result of the mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis to date—essentially condemning the nation to a greater toll from the virus itself and a much longer period of economic distress. It must be clear that the harsh reality of the April jobs report—and the much broader pain that has been felt over recent weeks—was the result of both failed policy decisions and mismanagement. By the same token, we have the choice going forward as to whether we accept further pain or take steps that would both keep people healthy and get Americans back to work.





Bankrupt hospitals sue feds

Stifel CEO: Hospitals Will Go Bankrupt in Overlooked Threat

Small hospitals going through bankruptcy are suing the Small Business Administration, arguing it is unlawful for the federal government to deny them loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, Axios’ Bob Herman reports.

Why it matters: Allowing bankrupt hospitals access to PPP loans could keep their doors open, and could force the federal government to reverse its stance and allow other bankrupt firms to get PPP loans.

Driving the news: Faith Community Health System, a small rural hospital in Texas that filed for bankruptcy in February, sued the SBA Thursday.

  • The hospital wants to apply for a $2.4 million PPP loan to pay staff and remain open while it goes through bankruptcy and handles the coronavirus pandemic.
  • However, the SBA says bankrupt companies will not be approved for the bailout money because of their “high risk.”
  • Faith Community argues the government agency doesn’t have the authority to exclude bankrupt firms from PPP funding because the law doesn’t spell out those eligibility requirements.

The big picture: Courts are starting to take hospitals’ side.

  • A bankruptcy judge in Maine said the funding was a “grant of aid necessitated by a public health crisis,” and that two hospitals that sued the federal government are entitled to PPP loans.
  • A separate bankrupt hospital in Vermont also should be eligible for PPP funds, a judge ruled this week.

The bottom line: Rural hospitals have been in dire straits for years, and for those that are on the precipice of or are going through bankruptcy, they may be eligible for this bailout funding despite SBA exclusions.