We like to think that we have everything under control. Politicians who want to keep their jobs have an obligation to give us the impression that they have a good handle on things that matter. For the most part, our local elected leaders have done a good job keeping things together during a time of great stress and disruption.

A tremendous amount of money will be flowing out of Washington D.C. with passage of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. This money will take the form of unemployment aid, tax credit expansions, vaccine distribution funds and state and local government relief.

It is imperative that our public officials grab as many of those funds as they can “while the gettin’ is good.”

The same goes for local companies that may benefit from the federal spending on things like expanding broadband internet access.

By now, many readers will have already received the $1,400 direct payment from Uncle Sam. We certainly encourage you to spend that stimulus money here in DeKalb County where it can help our homegrown businesses rather than taking it out of state or sending it through the interwebs to Amazon. But any activity will help the economy to restart.

Like a fresh new credit card received in the mail, fresh national debt had better be used in an emergency rather than squandered simply because we want things.

We have to tread carefully to reduce the risk of inflation and remember this money will have to be paid back, with interest, once the economy is in better shape. We already own a huge mountain of debt, and I pity the politician who will have no choice but to inflict austerity because no other choice remains. Discipline will be needed once things improve so that burden feels less blunt.

The plan offers $350 billion in relief to state, local and tribal governments. It directs more than $120 billion to K-12 schools. It also offers nearly $30 billion in aid to restaurants. The legislation expands an employee retention tax credit designed to allow companies to keep workers on payroll.

It extends a $300 per week jobless aid supplement and programs making millions more people eligible for unemployment insurance until Sept. 6. The plan also makes an individual’s first $10,200 in jobless benefits tax-free. It is important that we help people during this time of need so they can get back on their feet.

Our state leaders have acted so we aren’t caught by surprise at tax time by not taxing the stimulus monies. This is surely appreciated by all who won’t have that added tax burden for the financial lifeline extended to them.

There’s also talk of possible infrastructure spending to invest in repairs to aging roads, bridges, airports, and broadband and water systems. At the very least, it’s a conversation worth having because the past year has revealed many stresses and fractures of a fragile society. Leaders of the past have, in many places and cases, failed to properly invest in systems that are now crumbling and vulnerable to catastrophic disaster. Rural communities like ours are particularly at risk.

To pay for this, some have proposed raising the corporate tax rate. I urge caution and restraint but acknowledge that the competitiveness and economic security of our American companies is threatened by this eroding infrastructure. We risk catastrophic structural failures disrupting our interstate highway system.

The current repairs to small portions of Interstate-59 and Highway 117 in Mentone demonstrate what impacts can be felt when important roads are taken off the grid.

So if we are reluctantly going to spend, let’s do so wisely and invest now so we don’t pay a heavier price later.

— Steven Stiefel is the publisher of the Times-Journal. His column appears in Saturday editions. Email: steven.stiefel@times-journal.com.

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