Washington — Gary Cohn, President Trump's former chief economic adviser, said Sunday it may be time for the country to move away from the "extraordinary measures" related to unemployment benefits implemented in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic as many states shift toward reopening.
In an interview with "Face the Nation," Cohn noted the federal government first expanded unemployment benefits "for a specific purpose," as public health experts encouraged Americans to stay at home to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
"So we changed the definition of unemployment. We said, look, stay home. Don't look for a job. We don't want you to leave your house," Cohn told "Face the Nation." "Now, I think we have to go back to the more traditional definition of unemployment. If you're unemployed, you get benefits. But if you need to be looking for a job and if you get offered a job, you should have to take that job and you should come off of unemployment benefits. We need to transition out of the extraordinary measures that were justifiable 60 days ago, 90 days ago, into the real world of what is the continuous definition of unemployment."
Most states are beginning to ease restrictions imposed weeks ago as they look to revive economies that have been battered by the ongoing pandemic. An additional 3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total number of U.S. workers filing for unemployment to 36 million. The unemployment rate has reached 14.7%, the highest since the Great Depression.
In response to the staggering economic impacts of the coronavirus, the White House has shifted its focus toward recovery and states are now moving into a phased reopening of their economies.
Cohn expressed optimism that the U.S. economy would bounce back, as it is "quite resilient."
"I have to remind people that we ended up in this economic situation by necessity," he said. "We made a conscientious decision to shut down our economy and have everyone stay home to flatten the curve, which was the right decision. But we created this economic situation. We can unwind this much more quickly than some of the comparisons that we're making in a time where there were situations where our unemployment data happened over a long period of time because of declining employment, declining sales."
Mr. Trump has signed into law four legislative packages designed to help ailing Americans, small businesses and industries, and on Friday, the Housea $3 trillion measure that would provide more funding for state and local governments, hazard pay for frontline health care workers and another round of direct payments.
Cohn said the country now understands "we have to be in the position of federal government to spend $2 to $5 trillion at a moment's notice to support our infrastructure and support our economy," but said all options must be considered when it comes to how to pay for that federal relief.
"We need to sit down to look at both sides of the equation. We need to sit down and look at the revenue side of the equation, and we need to look at the expense side of the equation," he said. "So I would say, yes, that the tax situation in the United States has to be readjusted. Everything should be on the table."