WASHINGTON –

Want to see the damage done by the Democrats’ week-long delay in passing the emergency relief bill? Consider the bill’s most important employment provision, the Paycheck Protection Program -- a $350 billion fund to provide small businesses with “forgivable loans” so they can keep the lights on during the lockdown and avoid laying off their workers.

   According to a survey published the week after the bill was passed, a quarter of small businesses reported that they had already been forced to temporarily close, and 40% of those left said they were on the verge of closing within two weeks. That is more than half of all small businesses in the United States.

    This is why it was critical to get these businesses help fast. The desperation for help was evident in the rush for loans Friday, when the Paycheck Protection Program finally came online, a week after President Trump signed the bill into law. On its first day alone, banks approved about 17,500 loans valued at over $5.4 billion. By Tuesday, the program had funded 178,000 loans at a value of $50 billion. The demand is so great that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he would seek to approve more funding to prevent the program from running out of money.

   Had Senate Democrats not filibustered the bill, the program would have been in place a week sooner. On March 26 we learned that a record 3.28 million Americans had filed for unemployment insurance the week before. That record was quickly shattered when we found out an additional 6.6 million joined the unemployment rolls the week Democrats were filibustering -- for a total of nearly 10 million. Every day, every hour that Congress delayed, more businesses shut their doors, and more Americans lost their jobs.

   Not only did Democrats delay the bill, but they also used that delay as leverage to make unemployment benefits so generous that in many cases unemployment is now more attractive than a paycheck. The bill increases unemployment benefits by $600 per week for four months -- twice as long as the two months the Paycheck Protection Program benefits are supposed to last. Depending on which state workers are in, this is the equivalent of $15 to $35 an hour for not working.

   Benefits that generous will draw people onto unemployment who might otherwise not be there. It will make it harder for the businesses that are hiring during the lockdown -- such as supermarkets, pharmacies, online retailers and delivery services -- to find workers. And if we lift restrictions on economic activity in fewer than four months’ (as we all hope is the case), fragile small businesses trying to restart operations will have to compete with the unemployment office for employees.

   All of this undermines the bill’s objective of a “V-shaped” recovery -- a steep, rapid decline, followed by an equally steep, rapid economic resurgence once the danger from the virus has been mitigated. There is still good reason to hope this can happen. We don’t have the structural problems of the 2008 financial crisis; before the virus hit, the fundamentals of the economy were strong. And unlike a hurricane or an earthquake, a virus does not wipe out critical infrastructure that takes years to rebuild. That means, as soon the quarantines and social distancing stop, our economy could come roaring back, perhaps as soon as this summer.

   But for that to happen, we must keep workers employed, so that we have a workforce in place and ready go as soon as the restrictions are lifted. The more workers who lose their jobs and end up on unemployment during the lockdown, the less likely a rapid resurgence becomes -- because it will take time for businesses to find new workers, and for workers to find new jobs.

   To rescue the U.S. economy, we must flatten the unemployment curve at the same time we flatten the coronavirus curve. That was the purpose of the economic recovery bill. There is a simple way to measure whether it is succeeding: Do unemployment claims stop rising? If they don’t, then we will know the help came too late -- and was structured the wrong way.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

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