Many of us are fond of throwing around the phrase, “those who cannot remember the past are destined to repeat it.” Dear ol’ Eduflack is fortunate enough to be the son of an historian, a presidential historian at that, meaning that from my earliest days, I was taught American history and its importance to both today and tomorrow.
I can vividly recall my father teaching my about presidential politics as we watched the results of the 1980 elections reported on television. I remember sitting in the back of the lecture hall as a middle schooler as he taught college students in New York City. I still smile when I think of dinner table conversations and debates regarding everything from what I was learning in school to what title my dad should put on his two-volume history of the U.S. presidency (Ferocious Engine of Democracy was the big winner).
Trained as a social scientist and historian, my father spent much of his professional career as a college president, leading three institutions of higher education (one private and two public). Dr. Michael P. Riccards then went on to serve as the public policy scholar in residence at the College Board for many years, only to “start” retirement by creating and leading a successful public policy institute headquartered in New Jersey.
Those who know Dr. (or President) Riccards would not be at all surprised that he has is now applying his lifetime of both scholarship and successful, results-based leadership to now help policymakers navigate our coronavirus world. He put pen to paper to create a “Proposal to Heroes,” designed to be a policy response to Covid-19 akin to the G.I. Bill and its initial response to World War II. The idea has already sparked a great deal of conversation, with Dr. Riccards working with several state governments to explore the feasibility of such an approach.
For the past decade, Eduflack has resisted having “guest posts” on these electronic pages. But today, I make an important exception. Today, I provide the context for the “Proposal to Heroes” offered by Dr. Michael P. Riccards.
In 1944 Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act or the G. I. Bill. Originated by the American Legion, the act provided a series of benefits for returning veterans. Only about 6% of the armed forces were to see combat, but all were eligible. Among those who took advantage of the act was George H. W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Al Gore Jr., Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Judge John Paul Stevens, David Brinkley, John Chancellor, Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman and coach Tom Landry.
After only Social Security, it remains one of the most popular federal programs initiated by the government. Benefits have been enlarged over the years. They included at first low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans to start a business or farm, one year of unemployment compensation, and dedicated payments of tuition and living expenses to attend high school, college or vocational school. Benefits were available for veterans who had served at least 90 days and were honorably discharged.
This proposal for heroes is meant to deal with heroic sacrifices made in the pandemic of 2020 and who served their nation in its time of peril.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE
Those who served during this period of national emergency certified by executive order, the governors or other government agencies. This group includes medical responders, hospital workers including in tribal clinics, and related medical servers and custodians. Also included will be those who were called essential workers and were so defined by the President’s executive orders, first line workers including police, firefighters, and clerical people. Doctors, nurses, and medical providers may use these funds to help pay off educational debts. In the event of the death of a responder, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs shall create a schedule of transferable benefits.
It is obvious that these sacrifices were above and beyond the call of duty. When the pandemic subsides, these individuals should reap some benefits that extraordinary expressions of valor warrants. These provisions in the GI Bill had incredible unintended consequences: they created a new middle class which produced a wave of prosperity and general uplift of the population. This new bill will create a new middle class, one that will focus on newer immigrant and first generation Americans who will be able to use especially their educational opportunity and financial security to buttress the very underpinnings of modern American democracy. The questions of income inequality will be muted, and the entire nation will benefit from many more health care workers which may be needed as we continue to fight other pandemics.
Since these provisions are so similar to the GI Bills of Rights, they will be administrated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs by a special committee of six members, appointed by the President and each house of the U.S. Congress.
The Income Tax Code provides all sorts of investment benefits, recognizing that such allocations create economic and social opportunities. Public policy studies, including done in the past by the Hall Institute, show that the GI Bill brought a 6-1 multiplier effect in the long run to the federal treasury, it proves that the best investment in America is in Americans.
Without question, it is an intriguing idea offered through the lens of how the United States has responded to crises and to those who have unselfishly served their nation and their community. It is definitely worth a meaningful debate.