There’s a viral pandemic going on, which has caused the economy to crash. Many U.S. residents who previously lived comfortably on a day-to-day basis are losing some or all of their income and having trouble paying bills. In response, government leaders from both parties have proudly announced generous new unemployment benefits, a massive “stimulus” that will deliver cash to individual Americans, a program of no-interest loans that will allow small businesses to retain workers, and arrangements with landlords and lenders to allow the deferment of rent and mortgage payments.
Sounds great! There’s a catch, though: None of those things work.
At least, they don’t work in the sense of reliably delivering relief to everyone who is eligible for the programs and needs them. You can’t get unemployment benefits until you register for unemployment, and many people can’t register for unemployment, even if they’re calling the office hundreds of times a day, because state systems are overloaded. You can get your stimulus if the IRS already has a direct deposit account number for you—but if you didn’t get a refund this year or last year, it doesn’t have that number, and the website where you’re supposed to be able to enter it often just returns a message that says “payment status not available.” The same applies for small-business loans: Those who are eligible are supposed to apply through their existing banks, but your bank (or your boss’s bank) may not have even posted information on its website about how to apply before announcing that the window for applications had closed. And as far as monthly housing payments go, it turns out that for many customers of major banks what’s being offered isn’t deferment, wherein you skip payments now and add them on to the end of your agreement, but rather forbearance, wherein the money from any skipped payments is simply all due in a lump sum a few months from now, i.e., when you will almost certainly not have yet found a job that pays enough to have made up the income you just lost. If you’d like to speak to a representative of your bank about that, there might be one available if you’re willing to wait on hold for 16 or 17 years.