Friday Facts: March 26, 2021

It’s Friday! 

Friday’s Freshest: Visit georgiapolicy.org to read the Foundation’s latest commentary, “Don’t Let Strings on Covid Cash Make Georgia Feds’ Puppet,” by Kyle Wingfield.

Memory Lane: The Georgia Public Policy Foundation, which celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2021, has long held state government accountable for its spending, as this article from 25 years ago demonstrates.

Quotes of note

“People who worked through 2020 with no reduction in pay chat about how they are going to spend their ‘stimmy” checks. A poll conducted by a securities firm found that 40% of the respondents plan to invest at least some part of their checks in stocks/bitcoin. Other interviewees will fund a Robinhood account, donate $800 to a Buddhist Center, help fund a side business, or fund college savings accounts. The sad reality, is that they, or someone else, will have to pay the bill in the future.” – Alan Calandro

“Democrats’ so-called ‘American Rescue Plan’ includes three major problems for your healthcare: expanding ACA subsidies, expanding Medicare, and fully covering COBRA costs. Make no mistake: These provisions will do far more harm than good by expanding the flaws of a broken healthcare system and sticking consumers and future generations with the bill.” – Washington Examiner

Economy

Home alone: E-commerce sales climbed to 14% of retail sales last year from 11% a year earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Consumer spending on games, toys and hobbies increased 19% over 2019, spending on personal computers rose 15% and spending on video streaming and rental services rose a whopping 23%. Source: Wall Street Journal

Big fraud: The Small Business Administration (SBA) has made or guaranteed more than 17 million loans and grants to businesses hurt by COVID-19 through Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans. To speed distribution of funds the SBA streamlined the programs, which reduced oversight and left them more susceptible to fraud. By January 2021, potentially ineligible businesses had received about 5,000 advances totaling about $26 million and at least SBA 3,000 loans totaling about $156 million. Source: Government Accountability Office

Rising tide: Jobless claims fell to 684,000 last week, their lowest level of the pandemic, as stronger hiring and consumer spending drive a U.S. economic revival, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday  Jobless claims were 781,000 the week before. “Claims are now at the lowest point since mid-March of last year, before lockdowns triggered millions of layoffs. They are also below the pre-pandemic high of 695,000, a threshold not crossed for 52 weeks,” the newspaper reported.

Taxes and spending

Wait, there’s more! With the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion spending COVID-19 “American Rescue Plan” implemented, Democrats are drafting a new package. According to Axios, the total could be $5 trillion and include rural broadband expansion, making the child tax credit permanent, and “landmark legislation on climate, guns, voting.” USA Today reports the White House is already working on the “legislation for developing roads, hospitals and green energy systems as part of President Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ campaign.” Source: News reports

Income inequality: From 1967 to 2017, income inequality spiked 21.4%, prompting critics to call it an urgent problem. “Yet the data upon which claims about income inequality are based are profoundly flawed,” Phil Gramm and John Early write in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. They point out that Census Bureau income data overlook two-thirds of all government transfer payments, including Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and some 100 other government transfer payments as income to the recipients. “Furthermore, census data fail to count taxes paid as income lost to the taxpayer.”

Pork-barrel politics: Congressional earmarks are back. The Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives will allow up to $13 billion in earmarks on House appropriations bills, 10 per member, for a total of up to 4,350 earmarks for Fiscal Year 2022, according to a report in Forbes.com. The House started a moratorium on earmarks in 2011. Now they call it “Member-directed spending.”

Education

Allocations: On the State Board of Education meeting agenda for Thursday was a list of allocations to Georgia’s public school districts. The state superintendent will “allocate $3,824,434,120 to Local Education Agencies (LEA) in the manner required by law,” according to the agenda item. One district, Clayton County, has not held one single day of in-person learning this school year but will receive $170,508,371 from the U.S. Education Department’s $4.2 billion ($4,249,371,244) grant to the state “for the purpose of supporting schools as they are impacted by the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Elections

Ongoing: While the Legislature debates election reform legislation, Judicial Watch has filed two suits seeking information “about what happened behind the scenes in Georgia during the 2020 election.” One seeks records related to the March 6, 2020, consent agreement between the Secretary of State “and others” regarding the processing of absentee ballots; the other seeks information surrounding a recorded January 2 call between the Secretary of State and President Trump “and others” regarding alleged election fraud.

Reforms: Whether Georgia’s voting legislation is called “election integrity” or “voter oppression” depends on what side of the aisle one sits. The Wall Street Journal examined the proposals and points out, for example: “The House bill would set an earlier deadline for requesting a mail ballot: Applications would be due 11 days before the election, instead of four. This is moving in the right direction, but the U.S. Postal Service says 15 days should be allotted, so voters receive their blank ballots with enough time to mail back their completed ones.”

Legislature

‘Granny’ cams: Legislation that would allow remote monitoring of patients in long-term care facilities advanced out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Education: The House Education Committee advanced legislation that would codify learning pods; legislation to expand qualifying criteria for the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship; and legislation revising the state charter school funding formula.

Probation: A Senate bill that would allow for early termination of probation in some cases passed out of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee last week. Georgia has the highest rate of correctional supervision in the nation.

Family visits: State Rep. Ed Setzler, sponsor of legislation that would allow a relative to visit patients in medical facilities, posted on Facebook Wednesday that “Hospital lobbyists completely GUTTED the right of patients to see their family members in the hospital!”

Healthcare

COVID-19 update: Georgia opened COVID-19 vaccinations to anyone age 16 or older Thursday, becoming the sixth state to do so. The Georgia Department of Public Health reported the number of cases since the pandemic began totaled 845,560 as of Thursday afternoon, up from 839,823 last week. Deaths were at 16,257; last week the death toll was16,053. The department updates the information daily at 3 p.m. Visit the website here.

Disabilities: More than 3 million children (4.3% of the under-18 population) in the United States had a disability in 2019, up 0.4 percentage points since 2008, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The most common disability type among children was cognitive difficulty and the increase “may stem from changes in access to health care and diagnosis among members of this group.”

Medical Mondays: In this week’s Checking Up On Health, learn about the differences among the COVID-19 vaccines, how hospitals rate on price transparency mandates, the odds of getting a healthcare bill reduced, those germy restroom hand dryers, and more.

Friday Flashback

This month in the archives: In March 15 years ago, the Foundation published, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Georgia Moves on Transportation.” It noted, “Just last November, Georgia Public Policy Foundation senior fellow Robert Poole … outlined a massive, innovative and astonishingly bold plan to get Atlanta out of the congestion forecast for the metro area. It included an express network of high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes instead of planned high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes … .” Today, the HOT lanes are an enormous success and the network is expanding.

Have a great weekend!

Kyle Wingfield and Benita Dodd

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