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Key food prices are surging after virus upends supply chains

By Agnieszka de Sousa, et al.
Key food prices are surging after virus upends supply chains
Workers carry sacks of rice inside a National Food Authority warehouse in Valenzuela, Philippines, on March 26, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Veejay Villafranca.

As the coronavirus pandemic penetrates more deeply into global supply chains, prices for key staples are starting to soar in some parts of the world.

Rice and wheat -- crops that account for about a third of the world's calories -- have been making rapid climbs in spot and futures markets. For countries that rely on imports, this is creating an added financial burden just as the pandemic shatters their economies and erodes their purchasing power. In Nigeria, for example, the cost of rice in retail markets soared by more than 30% in the last four days of March alone.

It's unclear what the biggest drivers were for the retail prices, whether it was a trickle-down effect from grain futures or local logistical choke points or panic buying, or a combination.

What is clear is that, while the world isn't about to run out of food anytime soon, anxiety over policyMakers' ability to deliver it to the right place at the right time and at the right price is mounting.

"Without the coronavirus, there would not be any problem whatsoever," said Stefan Vogel, head of agricultural commodity research at Rabobank International. "People are getting worried about the supply chain."

Most price measures in the broader economy at the moment are moving things in a different direction. There are concerns over deflation as the pandemic shutters businesses, sparks unemployment and unravels the oil market. In fact, a gauge of global food costs fell sharply last month, primarily a ripple effect from the energy plunge which cripples demand for crops like sugar that get turned into biofuels.

However, food prices don't move uniformly around the world. Even within that broader drop, some critical staples were outliers. Rice posted a third straight monthly increase.

While global grain inventories have been plentiful for several years, the response to the virus is unleashing ripple effects making it harder for staples to get where they're needed and helping drive the price gains. That's happening at the same time that demand has spiked with people loading their pantries while they stay home as much as possible.

Adding to the pressure, countries including Russia, Kazakhstan and Vietnam are moving to secure domestic supply by restricting exports that the world depends on.

The result? Export prices for rice from Thailand, the world's second-biggest shipper, are at a six-year high. Wheat futures in Chicago, the global benchmark, shot up more than 8% in March, while Canadian durum, the type of grain used in pasta and couscous, is at the highest since August 2017.

There are also signs that price gains could be making their way to consumers for some foods in the U.S. Wholesale egg prices rose to a record as grocers boosted orders by as much as six times normal volumes. Beef also surged, though some of the gains have eased in the last week.

Wheat and rice are the world's most consumed food crops. Staple-crop prices have a long history of fueling political instability. During the spikes of 2011 and 2008, there were food riots in more than 30 nations across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

To be clear, it's likely the supply disruptions could prove temporary. And that will probably mean that wheat and rice will stabilize. In the last several years, food costs have been relatively benign thanks to plentiful supplies. Global rice and wheat reserves are both projected at all-time highs, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But in the meantime, higher prices seen in recent weeks could hit countries that are more sensitive to fluctuations. That's especially true for nations where food makes up a bigger part of overall household budgets, and it puts the world's most vulnerable in further risk. Virus-related effects are also exacerbating price gains where food inflation was already an issue.

And it's not just staple crops rising. Prices of fruit and vegetables, essential in providing nutrition, are also going up in many parts of the world.

"Within countries there are going to be a lot of people who currently can't make money," said Rami Zurayk, a professor at the American University of Beirut specializing in food security. "If their incomes decline, the quality and quantity of the food is going to be declining, especially if this matched by an increase in price."

In Nigeria, stay-at-home orders from state governments have sparked panic buying. Snarled transportation means fewer goods are getting to markets and grocery stores, and inventories are depleting, said Saudat Salami, who owns an online food retailer in Lagos. Some traders in the food markets where she get supplies have also been afraid to stay in operation as the virus spreads, she said.

Rikotu Isah, a rice farmer from Kebbi, the country's largest producing state, said there haven't been significant problems with this year's crop yet, since the harvest just started.

"But if restrictions on movement persist and we can't transport our produce to the market, there will likely be a shortage in the market that will affect prices," he said.

Governments are working overtime to keep prices stable and inflation under wraps.

Algeria, Turkey and Tunisia have already stepped up their wheat purchases in recent weeks to secure supplies. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have said they will be boosting grain reserves. The Philippines is allocating more than $600 million for food sufficiency efforts and plans to buy 300,000 tons of rice.

Not everyone expects that government intervention can keep things under control, though.

Lalatendu Rath runs a small grocery store in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. He shut his shop for safety reasons as cases mount in the nation. Local authorities are controlling prices for essential commodities including food, but he has bought about 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of potatoes, or about three months worth of his household's needs.

"There is no guarantee if prices of staples will remain stable," he said. "It's better to buy a little more than the normal requirement, as we have children in the family to feed."

Overall food prices are still well below the peaks from 2008 and 2011 amid the big stockpiles. The oil slump should also help keep costs down for farmers, which tends to put a lid on crop prices.

But food-importing nations are also up against a surging U.S. dollar, which makes commodities more expensive for importers. The dollar is the most expensive ever against the Algerian dinar, and near a record against the Saudi riyal and Indonesian rupiah.

Climate change is also a major factor in the outlook. Drought has recently plagued rice crops in Thailand and Vietnam. In Australia, years of dryness have reduced vegetable plantings and sparked some shortages. If this year's global wheat harvest sees problems, that could prompt more countries to place limits on exports and spark further price gains.

The virus also hasn't yet spread widely in places with food insecurity, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. If it does, there's a chance that harvests will shrink, food prices will spike and more people will go hungry, the Agricultural Market Information System, a G20 initiative, said.

"All bets are off the table right now," said Neil Townsend, an analyst at FarmLink in Winnipeg, Manitoba. "Food security is going to be a big issue."

'You're basically right next to the nuclear reactor': A Chicago doctor on one of the pandemic era's most dangerous jobs

By No Author
'You're basically right next to the nuclear reactor': A Chicago doctor on one of the pandemic era's most dangerous jobs
Corey Deburghgraeve is an anesthesiologist at University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Kyle Monk

Cory Deburghgraeve, a 33-year-old Chicago physician, on his job amid the coronavirus pandemic, as told to Washington Post reporter Eli Saslow:

- - -

I could be the last person some of these patients ever see, or the last voice they hear. A lot of people will never come off the ventilator. That's the reality of this virus. I force myself to think about that for a few seconds each time I walk into the ICU to do an intubation.

This is my entire job now. Airways. Coronavirus airways. I'm working 14 hours a night and six nights a week. When patients aren't getting enough oxygen, I place a tube down their airway so we can put them on a vent. It buys their body time to fight the virus. It's also probably the most dangerous procedure a doctor can do when it comes to personal exposure. I'm getting within a few inches of the patient's face. I'm leaning in toward the mouth, placing my fingers on the gums, opening up the airway. All it takes is a cough. A gag. If anything goes badly, you can have a room full of virus.

So, there's a possibility I get sick. Maybe a probability. I don't know. I have my own underlying condition when it comes to this virus, but I try not to dwell on that.

Up until a few weeks ago, I was the anesthesiologist people would see when they were having babies. I'd do five to seven deliveries a day, mostly C-sections and epidurals. We're a large state hospital at University of Illinois-Chicago, and we end up doing a bunch of high-risk deliveries. You're trained to be the calmest person in the room. They teach us: "Don't just rely on medication to calm a person. Use your voice, your eye contact, your whole demeanor." We give people positive ideas and positive expectations. It sounds corny, but it works.

Our team had a meeting on March 16 to figure out a staffing plan, once it was clear where this was going. Chicago's becoming a hot spot now. Our ICU is almost full with covid patients. The pediatric ICU has been cleared out to handle overflow. The wave is just starting, and we need to limit our exposure or we're going to run out of staff. Everyone basically agreed we should dedicate one person to covid intubations during the day and another at night, and I started thinking: I'm 33 years old. I don't have any kids at home. I don't live with older relatives. About an hour after the meeting, I emailed my supervisor. "I'm happy to do this. It should be me."

Now my pager goes off throughout the night. Nine o'clock, midnight, 2, then again at 3:30. Most of the time, I do several airways in a shift. By next week or the week after that, they're saying it could be 10.

It's a common procedure. Intubations are routine for us, at least most of the time. You can be in and out of the airway in 10 or 15 seconds if everything goes right. But when you're dealing with a patient who isn't getting enough oxygen - which is everyone at this point - every second becomes crucial. As soon as I get the page in my call room, I grab my backpack of medications and my duffle bag of protective gear and run for the stairs. There isn't time to wait for the elevator. I go two floors up to ICU and get into my protective gear outside the room: mask, face shield, hood, secondary hood, personal air filter, gown, two sets of sanitized gloves. I tape everything together, because a few times the gown has risen up and exposed my wrists. There are so many opportunities to contaminate yourself. I monitor my heart rate, and it goes from like 58 to 130 by the time I get into the ICU. I'm stressed and rushed and hot inside the protective gear. I'm trying not to show it.

I've been shocked sometimes when I walk in and see the patients. Most of the ones I've intubated are young - 30s, 40s, 50s. These are people who walked into the ER because they were coughing a day or two ago, or sometimes hours ago. By the time I come into the room, they are in severe respiratory distress. Their oxygen level might be 70 or 80% instead of 100, which is alarming. They are taking 40 breaths a minute when they should be taking 12 or 14. They have no oxygen reserves. They are pale and exhausted. It puts them in a mental fog, and sometimes they don't hear me when I introduce myself. Some are panicky and gasping. Others are mumbling or incoherent. Last week, one patient was crying and asking to use my phone so they could call family and say goodbye, but their oxygen levels were dropping, and we didn't have time, and I couldn't risk bringing my phone in and contaminating it with virus, and the whole thing was impossible. I kept apologizing. I just -. I don't know. I have to find a way to hold it together in order to do this job. I tear up sometimes, and if I do, it can fog up my face shield.

The first thing I do is pull up a stool and get right down to their level at the bed. Most of the time, the look in their eyes is fear. But sometimes, honestly, it is relief, like, "Thank God. I can't do this anymore." They don't have the energy to be hysterical.

I put an oxygen mask on the patient and give 100% oxygen for a few minutes. You want to tank them up, because they won't be able to breathe on their own. Next I give medication to put them to sleep. We're trained to touch the eyelashes a bit to make sure they're down. Then I give a muscle relaxer and take a look down the airway for the vocal cords. With this virus, I see significant upper airway swelling, tongue swelling, lots of secretion. When I start to put the tube in, that gives an opportunity for the virus to release into the air. The patient's airway is wide open at that point - no mask or anything. People can cough when the tube goes in toward the trachea, a deep, forceful cough. My mask and hood can get covered in fluid. Usually it's tiny droplets. Aerosolized virus can float around. You're basically right next to the nuclear reactor. I go in confident and fast, because if you miss on the first try, you have to do it again, and then you're bringing out a ton more virus.

Once I'm done, sometimes I'll go back to the call room and do squats or lunges. I try to keep my lungs strong. It's hard not to think about, because I've had bad asthma since I was a kid.

I use an inhaler twice a day. I'm very in tune with my breathing, and whenever I'm getting sick, the first symptom is I start wheezing. My whole family was like, "Why are you volunteering for this? What are you doing?" My dad and brother got a bunch of tools and built a Plexiglas intubation box based on a model out of Taiwan. It sits above the patient's face, like a shield to reduce your exposure. I haven't been able to use it yet, but they're worried. They're trying to protect me.

Last week, I called to tell them about my end-of-life wishes. Then I emailed them, just in case. I said, "If I have to be intubated, I'm fine with that. But if I'm going through liver and kidney failure, and if I'm cognitively impaired at that point, and if you can tell my body is failing and I'm not going to get back to being who I am . . . " Well. It was a hard conversation. But I know how this virus can go.

Each night, I try to do rounds with the doctors in the ICU to check on the patients I've intubated. They're not allowed to have family or visitors. I'm not a religious person, but I do like to stand there for a minute outside the room and think about them and what they're going through. I try to think about something positive - a positive expectation. Mostly they're unconscious on the vent, but each day for an hour or two, they get what we call a sedation holiday, which means we bring down their medications so we can check on their baseline level of consciousness and see how they're doing on their own. In other words, for a little while, they might wake up.

They can't talk with the tube in, but I have seen a few patients before write messages on a piece of paper. "Vent?" Or: "Surgery?" Or: "How much longer?"

Usually, before this, patients would be on a vent for three to five days. Now we're seeing 14 to 21. Most of these people have acute respiratory distress syndrome. There's inflammation, scar tissue, and fluid building up in the lungs, so oxygen can't diffuse easily. No matter how much oxygen you give them, it can't get through. It's never enough. Organs are very sensitive to low oxygen. First comes kidney failure, then liver failure, and then brain tissue becomes compromised. Immune systems stop working. There's a look most people get, called mottling, where the skin turns red and patchy when you only have a few hours left. We have a few at that point. Some have been converted to "do not resuscitate."

In between intubations, I'll sit in my call room and watch the monitors. I can see all of the patients' vitals and check on how they're doing. We've had some successes. A younger patient came off the vent earlier this week and just got sent home. The staff at this hospital is amazing. Even so, it usually goes the other way. I'm looking at the monitor right now, and there's one patient who isn't going to make it through the night. Three others are tipping toward the edge.

It's a powerless feeling, watching someone die. The oxygen level drops, the heart rate drops, the blood pressure drops. These patients are dying on the ventilator, and sometimes when they take away the body, the tube is still in the airway.

After reparations: How a scholarship helped - and didn't help - descendants of victims of the 1923 Rosewood racial massacre

By Robert Samuels
After reparations: How a scholarship helped - and didn't help - descendants of victims of the 1923 Rosewood racial massacre
Morgan Carter, a Rosewood scholarship recipient, poses for a portrait at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, a historically black university in Tallahassee, Fla., on Dec. 13, 2019. MUST CREDIT: photo for The Washington Post by Zack Wittman.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Ever since Morgan Carter was a little girl, her grandmother would tell her a story. It was about an old mill town, deep in the backwoods of north Florida - a place where black people did well for themselves. The town was called Rosewood. That's where Carter's great-grandfather Oren Monroe was born.

In 1923, when Monroe was 8 years old, an all-white mob burned the town to the ground. They killed six people, maybe more. He escaped with a group of women and children on an unusually cold night, wading through a swamp before boarding a train that took them to a safer place.

Carter was destined to be the story's happy ending. Because of the pain Monroe's community suffered, the Florida legislature passed a law in 1994 allowing descendants of Rosewood to go to college in the state tuition-free. The law is regarded as the first instance of a legislative body in the United States giving reparations to African Americans.

- - -

More than 25 years after the law passed, Carter slumped over a textbook on an empty dining table. It was December, and finals were approaching. She was most of the way through a six-year program at Florida A&M University to earn a pharmacy doctorate, one of the school's most intensive programs. She closed her textbook, frustrated; then she opened it again.

"I can't mess this up," she said. "If I mess this up, I mess it up for me and my cousins and people I don't even know."

In the world outside Carter's stressful college bubble - she is continuing her studies online from her Tallahassee apartment because of the coronavirus outbreak - politicians had been debating reparations for black Americans with unprecedented vigor. A bill to study the issue got its first hearing in Congress last year, and virtually every Democratic presidential candidate pitched a racial justice platform as way to atone for the country's original sin.

Even so, supporters of reparations acknowledge the stumbling blocks of figuring out the appropriate way to pay back black Americans for centuries of enslavement and systemic discrimination. They also face the challenge of persuading skeptical lawmakers who consider reparations a pipe dream with no lasting effect.

The Rosewood bill stands out as a rare example of a group overcoming those challenges - and the impact of the law lingers across campuses such as FAMU. Since 1994, 297 students have received Rosewood scholarships, according to state records compiled at the request of The Washington Post.

What can a scholarship do to address a historic injustice? For Carter and her family, reparations changed the frame of a tortured past. The Rosewood story no longer ends with a scared boy running through the woods; it continues with graduation robes and diplomas, potentially the family's first doctorate.

But even as the scholarship has been the engine to propel family ambitions, it has also ensured that the story of Rosewood hangs over it like a shadow. A heaviness - a sense of purpose but also of worry - has been passed down from generation to generation.

"We're not doing this just for us," Carter, 21, remembered her grandmother saying. "You always have to be the best and prove a point, simply because of who you are and what your family has gone through."

Carter has not studied the specific details of her great-grandfather's journey. He died in 1976. But to know this story of his past, even by its loosest contours, is to understand the cruelty of racism, the potential depravity of a neighbor.

She tries not to think about it too much. But when she does, when things get stressful, she finds herself consumed by questions. They are the same questions that have lingered over her family for generations and that tortured Oren Monroe: How much should the past determine the future? And when is it time to move on?

- - -

Only a handful of groups have received reparations in the United States. In the 1990s and 2000s, court settlements led to payments to black men who were unknowingly infected with syphilis for medical studies and to low-income women who were forced to be sterilized.

In the 1980s, the federal government provided checks to Japanese American families who were forced into internment camps during World War II, and land and cash were given to Native American tribes slaughtered in the name of Manifest Destiny.

Still, until recently, the idea of reparations for African Americans had been considered fringe politics in a country still struggling to reconcile its fraught racial history.

Then there is Rosewood. Over two years, a group of elderly survivors - working in tandem with some of the state's most powerful lobbyists - persuaded a conservative state government to take responsibility for the pains of their forebears.

The survivors were from families that had visible symbols of wealth - two-story homes with organs and pianos - before the mob had burned it all down over six days. No law enforcement agency tried to rescue them. In a country where wealth is largely inherited, the families escaped with nothing.

As adults, they worked menial jobs: shining shoes, cleaning utensils, standing in factory lines. And in their life's twilight, they still had nightmares about the fires they witnessed as children, just as other incidents of white mob violence - similar incidents happened in Wilmington, North Carolina; Ocoee, Florida; and Tulsa, Oklahoma - haunted other black families.

"We wanted the case to be a blueprint for other cases across the country," said Stephen Hanlon, a lawyer for Holland & Knight who helped craft the bill. "We said back then that this was a single incident unlike any other, that it was just this one case. But that was bullsh--."

At first, the challenges seemed insurmountable. Lawmakers worried about being flooded with other reparations cases from different incidents, crowding the legislative agenda and draining the state's coffers. They wondered how they could possibly translate an incident of racial terror into dollars and cents. Some even doubted the incident actually happened.

Hanlon's firm developed a plan. Working with Rosewood descendants, it pushed the legislature to commission a study on the issue, so historians could verify the survivors' story. Then they started an international media campaign to raise awareness of the Rosewood massacre - partially to coax support from the state's Black Caucus, which feared the issue was too divisive.

They figured out that the way to get conservatives to support reparations was to avoid the topic of race. With the help of a Republican lead sponsor, they argued the Rosewood bill was about the loss of property rights, and the government neglecting its obligation to protect its citizens from vigilantes.

But Hanlon knew that the most important component, the thing that would compel the most skeptical lawmaker, was the testimony of living witnesses.

Lawmakers kept seeing elderly African Americans - one in a wheelchair, one blind - gingerly making their way through the bustling halls of the Capitol. They would grab lawmakers by the hand, look them in the eye and say, "Don't forget about us."

By the time the survivors were sworn in to give their official testimonies, the case had built up so much momentum that Hanlon was sure the families would win.

The only question left was: How much should they get?

Originally, the families had dreamed of a claim as large as $1 million per family, but lawmakers - even the bill's co-sponsors - told them they would reject a bill that was so costly.

A state arbitrator known as a special master arrived at a different calculation. He concluded that no amount of money would ever satisfy survivors who endured such loss, so it was not worth an attempt to quantify. Instead, he determined that living survivors were entitled to $150,000 - equivalent to the largest settlement the legislature had ever approved in a child abuse case. Families could also make claims for additional funds if they could find records proving their ancestors lost property during the massacre.

The bill cleared the state House easily and then the Senate 26 to 14 - nine Republicans joined 17 Democrats to vote yes - on the final day of the 1994 legislative session.

There were only nine living survivors who would receive the full payouts, according to the state data given to The Post.

And their families did not receive much. By the time 143 descendants received checks from the state of Florida, the controversial action of reparations amounted to little more than a tax refund. Only half received more than $2,000.

The survivors would eventually spend the money as quickly as they got it, in part to avoid family infighting. They bought new sofas and new houses, and donated to their churches.

Anticipating how quickly the money would vanish, the lobbyists came up with one more idea, one way to help ensure the story of Rosewood would endure. That idea was the scholarship.

- - -

Months after the bill passed, Carter's mother, Natasha Twiggs, got a phone call.

"Do you still want to finish college?"

Of course, Twiggs recalled telling her aunt. But Twiggs had no idea when. She was 21 and stopped going to class after she had a son, Carter's older brother. A single mom, Twiggs was working to provide.

"You might want to look into this," Twiggs recalled her aunt saying. "Your family has a scholarship that will pay for you to go to school."

Twiggs had no idea. She had paid no attention to the Tallahassee bill. Growing up, if she heard her elders speaking about Rosewood, she would go play outside.

"It just seemed like adult stuff," Twiggs said.

But reparations changed everything. Rosewood was now an opportunity. In 1996, Twiggs became Oren Monroe's first grandchild to use the scholarship to graduate from college. She is now a school administrator.

One of her favorite memories at Florida A&M was seeing a section about Rosewood while flipping through a textbook in her African American studies class. Twiggs was so excited that she called her mother to learn more about the history she once tried to ignore.

Marie Monroe-Ames, now 64, was thrilled to share everything she knew with her daughter. A self-described history buff, she had grown up in a world where outsiders did not take her family story seriously.

"It couldn't be swept under the rug no more," Monroe-Ames said. "No one can say it didn't happen."

But something even more personal happened to Monroe-Ames when she heard the survivors' testimonies. She felt as if she better understood her father, Oren Monroe.

Her father was a good man, but he had a bad temper and would sometimes shake inexplicably. He was suspicious of white people. When schools were integrating, he sent her and her sisters to an all-black boarding school. He wouldn't even allow white people to walk through the front door of the house.

Monroe was the proud son of Sophie Goins and John Monroe, whose family had a thriving lumber business in North Carolina, then a successful turpentine business in Rosewood. But his esteemed family lineage had been spoiled by the whites who descended on his community, seeking to avenge a white woman who claimed a black man had assaulted her. Before that night in 1923, blacks and whites in the nearby town had coexisted; some white boys even came to Rosewood to play baseball with them.

Monroe-Ames realized that her father could never trust people whose intentions could turn so suddenly. When the mob came, Oren Monroe and the other children were forced to hide in the house of a man named Sylvester Carrier, who shot two white men when they burst through his door. The mob retreated briefly before returning in greater numbers, forcing children - dressed only in their nightclothes - to suffer the indignity of fleeing through the forest, hiding like woodland animals.

For Monroe-Ames's generation, the fight for reparations was about restoring their families' dignity. They had started holding family reunions, reconnecting lines of their family tree. In doing so, they discovered reparations' promise - and its pain.

At one get-together before the bill was signed, Monroe-Ames said she met a woman who was a child during the Rosewood incident.

"We loved your Aunt Marie!" the survivor told Monroe-Ames of her namesake. "That was everybody's big sister."

Aunt Marie was 18 when the attack happened. Hiding in the swamps while the mob came to town, she caught pneumonia. Months later, she died.

Almost every Rosewood story, for the survivors, became tragic. After the bill, Monroe-Ames tried to get another survivor to fill out the paperwork for a claim. But when Monroe-Ames brought up the subject, she said, the woman descended into a trance. She wrapped her hands around her chest and started to shake.

"It's cold," she muttered. "It's so cold." It was as if she were back in Rosewood all over again.

And she began to scream.

"Oh my God. They shooting! They shooting!" she yelled before quieting herself down. "Be quiet. They going to find us and kill us."

"That bothered me for a long time," Monroe-Ames recalled. "These people were actually chased by ghosts all their lives, and we didn't understand that."

Growing up, Oren Monroe never told his daughter the full story. After reparations, Monroe-Ames realized why. A part of it was for her sake - and a part of it was for his own.

- - -

Carter was born into a different world - it seemed everyone was fascinated by her family history. There were television specials and award-winning books and magazine articles. Director John Singleton turned Rosewood into a feature film.

Carter would watch her grandmother travel around the state during Black History Month to do presentations about Rosewood, telling audiences there were lessons to be learned from the past.

Now, as her grandmother gets older, it is more and more up to Carter to decide how she should present her family legacy.

As she sat in her dorm room the night after her December exams, Carter said she wasn't sure she wanted that responsibility. What good would it do? Her grandmother taught the story of Rosewood for years, and still a torch-carrying crowd of white supremacists marched through the University of Virginia. Those people, she figured, could not have looked very different from the mob that ran out her great-grandfather.

"Hate needs to be taught, and people in this country still hate," Carter said. "Who's teaching them?"

And over time, the splendor of the legislative achievement lost its luster. The scholarship dictated her college choices - it was a foregone conclusion that she would go to school in Florida, nowhere else.

Carter was confident FAMU, the state's preeminent black university, was the right choice for her, but she saw flaws in the Rosewood bill. Even though she is in a six-year program, the scholarship covered only four years of tuition, running out at the end of this academic year. She is paying for the other college expenses through grants and additional scholarships.

"I don't want to sound ungrateful, because this scholarship is helping me get through college," Carter said. "And I am grateful for that. But at the same time, so is financial aid. It just feels like a small olive branch."

On a campus where so many struggle to pay their bills, Carter does not volunteer information that she receives a special scholarship. So she had never met another descendant on campus aside from her two cousins.

When Carter heard that this reporter knew of others, she asked whether she could meet them. They had wanted to meet her, too.

On a gray and rainy day, Carter put on a pair of sweatpants and headed to the university quad. Past the lawn, on the steps of the old library, were two fellow students. One was a sophomore named Darshae Spells, the other a freshman named Chandrahasa Srinivasa.

"I'm Morgan," she said.

"Are you a Rosewood?" Spells said under his breath.

"Yeah," she said.

"That's what's up."

The three stared at one another. Then they all giggled.

They made their way to a table in the student center and grabbed food at Chick-fil-A. Between bites of chicken sandwiches, there was mostly silence. Nothing in their lives had prepared them to talk to anyone who had this foggy piece of family history in common, and Morgan acknowledged to them she didn't fully know what to say.

At first they talked about the things that college students talk about - music, campus parties, their majors. Thirty minutes passed, and Spells finally broached the subject of Rosewood.

"There's a movie about us in the Black Archives," Spells said.

"My grandmother told me that movie is not accurate," Carter said. She shook her head and told them what she knew was fact.

"I'm a Goins," Carter said. "My great-granddad is Oren Monroe. He and his sister were there when everything was going down. They ran through the swamps to get to Riviera Beach, which is where I'm from. . . . I hate that I don't know more, but that's all I have right now."

There was an awkward pause.

"But does your family really talk about it, though?" Carter said. "Because mine doesn't."

"No, they don't really talk about it much," Spells said. Growing up, he said, he didn't know what happened until his junior year of high school, after he insisted on finding out why his family was not concerned with paying for college.

That's when his grandfather sat him down on the couch. He loaded the film version of "Rosewood" and told Spells that he is a distant cousin of Sylvester Carrier. (Carter is a distant relative of Carrier's wife, Gertrude King.)

"I felt like, 'Damn,' " Spells said. "That's just a lot to think about before you go to college. It made me feel some pressure."

"Me too," Carter said.

"Me too," Srinivasa said.

Srinivasa acknowledged he didn't know much more about Rosewood except the name of his ancestor, William Crockett. Srinivasa was just thankful for the scholarship money, the thing he called "low-key reparations."

The very mention of the word made each of three students shift in their seats.

"Reparations are cute, but I mean - this is probably just my opinion - but it's not going to change anything," Carter said. "We've been oppressed for too long for just a hot $10,000 to suddenly erase everything. We'll just go through this money and then be back where we started, before the reparations were handed out."

"Yeah," Spells said. "It's almost like: 'Here's some money. Now shut up about it.' "

"I think there are other ways, instead of just paying people a check," Srinivasa said. "Maybe if you give them, like, land or something, property."

"But if they don't have the money to pay the property taxes, they're going to lose the land you just gave them," Carter said.

The type of reparations that made sense to the three students would be similar to the type they were receiving - money for a specific incident of injustice.

But if the Rosewood bill was supposed to provide some sense of healing for Rosewood families, it was clear to these students that the scholarship would not be enough. The success of their elders - who used the scholarship to help build a better life for them - meant a college education was not particularly novel. In one generation alone, attaining a bachelor's degree became a family expectation.

The three appreciated the scholarship as an acknowledgment of suffering, a payment of a debt that was owed. Still, it could not erase the pain that lived on within them.

Four generations ago, their ancestors were fleeing their homes - hungry, shivering, unaware of what would come next. Now the descendants were at a Chick-fil-A, speaking about their paths to becoming a dermatologist, a pharmacist and a financier.

This was not the grand family reunion that the three imagined. They had little else to say to one another.

Srinivasa started trading cryptocurrency on his cellphone, Spells put in his ear buds and Carter pulled out her umbrella. But as they prepared to leave, Spells asked one more question. It spoke to something they all had in common, a feeling all three had assumed was theirs and theirs alone. He asked, almost sheepishly:

"Do - you like talking about it?"

"No," Carter said. "I hate it."

"Me too," Spells said.

Srinivasa nodded his head.

"Me too."

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

Dangers of doing too little far outweigh those of doing too much

By e.j. dionne jr.
Dangers of doing too little far outweigh those of doing too much

E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

(Advance for Monday, April 6, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Dionne clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By E.J. DIONNE JR.

WASHINGTON -- Our country can avoid long-term economic catastrophe, but only if we accept what would normally seem a preposterous idea: The $2.2 trillion in relief that Congress has approved is not nearly enough.

The dangers of doing too little far outweigh those of doing too much. A sluggish recovery could cause lingering human suffering that would impede the life chances of many Americans for decades. And if the economy recovers more rapidly than now seems likely, the emergency programs could be ended quickly.

In the short term, the aid Congress has already authorized must be pushed out with far greater urgency. As of now, it could take up to five months for some Americans to get their one-time relief checks. Independent contractors and the self-employed faced delays in applying for help under the program for small businesses. For the rest, rules were issued only at the last minute, and some borrowers fear banks are favoring existing customers.

Yes, a certain amount of confusion might be forgiven for a novel effort. But the Trump administration's bungling of so many aspects of the pandemic tells us to be deeply wary. And the difficulties states face in handling the unprecedented number of applications for unemployment insurance need to be addressed now.

But strange as it may seem, the relief bill itself was excessively optimistic in its assumptions about where the economy is headed. Some 10 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in March. The month's drop of 701,000 in non-farm payrolls was close to the peak monthly losses during the Great Recession.

State and local officials see budgetary mayhem on the horizon, and the federal assistance coming their way in the rescue plan is inadequate. Thus the urgency of a new economic rescue package that includes far more help for lower levels of government. "If states do massive layoffs or budget cuts," said Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "you're just going to prolong and deepen the recession."

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo feuded with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo over her, shall we say, controversial efforts to quarantine New Yorkers coming into her state. But she and Cuomo, who has called for more federal aid, are at one on budget matters.

While Raimondo's immediate concern is for the plight of her state's hospitals and small businesses, she pointed to the double fiscal effect of the pandemic.

"The costs are going through the roof, at a time when our revenues are falling off a cliff," she told me. "Unemployment insurance claims are skyrocketing, health costs are skyrocketing, and we have had to invent a lot of new social services" to deal with the coronavirus fallout.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, like Raimondo a moderate Democrat, said that transportation programs have often been first to be cut in her state in budget crises, which is counterproductive to growth. Governments, Kelly said in an interview, "should make sure that we're a job creator, not a job killer." New Deal-style jobs programs, she added, may suddenly be appropriate again.

Also essential: Programs that were time-limited in the rescue package, notably the big unemployment insurance increases, should be beefed up, extended beyond their current expiration dates and put on automatic pilot. They can switch off when economic indicators turn positive. The one-time payments in the original rescue should be delivered quickly now and authorized again.

Improvements in recently enacted family and medical leave rules could help many who have been forced to stay home, and a major increase in food stamp payments is essential. Hunger is a real threat, as my Washington Post colleague Catherine Rampell documented last week. And food stamps help more than just hungry people: Economist Mark Zandi showed during the Great Recession that food stamps are a highly effective economic stimulus.

For many, lost jobs mean lost health insurance. Republicans are allergic to the words "universal coverage," but no one should stay away from a doctor during a pandemic for fear of the cost. If ever there were a time to expand Medicaid and access to Obamacare, this is it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters last week that if "we do not address the economic consequences" of the crisis, "that light at the end of the tunnel will ... be the proverbial train coming at us." Yes, and she signaled Friday that she was willing to put off some of her more ambitious aspirations if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed on the need to build on the existing rescue program. McConnell, having earlier resisted a new bill, said he was ready to do business.

Perhaps McConnell was pondering the fate of a Republican president named Herbert Hoover, who was engulfed by the Great Depression.

McConnell can't want a replay. Surely the rest of us don't.

E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Deflation could be the next threat

By robert j. samuelson
Deflation could be the next threat

ROBERT J. SAMUELSON COLUMN

(Advance for Monday, April 6, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Samuelson clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By ROBERT J. SAMUELSON

WASHINGTON -- Just what kind of economic slump will this be? It's too early to know, but it's not too early to speculate. I've done a totally unscientific survey of economic forecasts. Some were solicited by me; others I received from regular emails. What follows is a quick summary of what I found. It doesn't attempt to forecast peak unemployment or the impact on the presidential election. My purpose is more modest: to clarify what we know and what we don't.

You'll recall the context. The coronavirus has turned into a job-killing machine. Businesses have closed by the thousands as firms lost customers and governments invoked lockdowns. Jobs, profits and the stock market have dropped dramatically. The next big worry may be deflation, a general fall of prices. It's already occurring in oil, where daily global demand has plunged from about 100 million barrels to 80 million. Prices have spiraled downward.

There's already a huge glut of jobless workers. Claims for government unemployment insurance have jumped by 3.3 million and 6.6 million in the past two weeks. The total of nearly 10 million is likely the fastest surge of joblessness since the Great Depression. If that 10 million were added to the preexisting joblessness, the unemployment rate (3.5% in February) would jump to over 10%, a blog post by the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

That hasn't happened yet. When the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the latest jobless figures on April 3, the official unemployment rate rose to only 4.4% in March. The gap between the 4% and the 10% has many causes, the BLS said: (1) Much of the employment survey occurred in early March, before the full impact of coronavirus layoffs was felt; (2) some workers on temporary layoff were misclassified as being employed; (3) some interviews "were suspended … for the safety of interviewers and respondents."

Confusion also surrounds gross domestic product (GDP). Some reports have suggested that GDP will suffer a double-digit decline in the second quarter. This is misleading. The CBO expects GDP to "decline by more than 7% during the second quarter." However, the data is presented on an annualized basis. So the 7% is multiplied by four. Presto: 28%.

Many forecasters expect the economy to rebound in the summer; the pandemic is expected to subside and many people could return to work. Economists Nariman Behravesh and Elisabeth Waelbroeck-Rocha of IHS Markit, a forecasting firm, expect the U.S. GDP to drop 5.4% in 2020. Capital Economics, a consulting firm, thinks the pandemic by year-end will be "under control in much of the world, including the U.S. And we think that this will set the stage for a more lasting recovery." European stocks could advance 20% to 30% over the same period. Goldman Sachs expects the GDP to take a massive hit in the second quarter but then jump 19% in the third quarter, resulting in a 6.2% drop for the whole year.

But pessimists abound. There's no doubt that the slump will be severe. Many economists have identified surpluses of people and products. Desmond Lachman of the American Enterprise Institute fears the worst. "The coronavirus epidemic is triggering other economic crises in its wake," he writes. Among those crises is "the bursting of a global asset price bubble … a global credit crunch, and a major reversal of capital flows to the emerging market economies."

Economist Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics is also downbeat. Households face lost income and lost wealth, he writes. "Some $10 trillion in stockholder wealth (depending on the day and hour) has evaporated in the past several weeks. A powerful wealth effect -- the relationship between households' wealth and their spending -- will soon take hold. We estimate the wealth effect in a down stock market to be 4.5 cents for every $1 decline in stock wealth, consumer spending will decline by almost a nickel in less than a year," he says. If continued, this would "crush consumer spending and the economy."

Deflation is a widespread fall in prices, just as inflation is a widespread increase in prices. In theory, modest deflation could aid an economic recovery by making goods and services cheaper. But rapid deflation could be self-defeating. Companies become even less profitable and consumers delay purchases because prices will be even lower.

The Great Depression provides evidence of deflation's damaging effects. Agricultural prices collapsed, making it harder for farmers to pay their debts. Mortgages went into default by the thousands. Prices fell more than wages, raising labor costs and frustrating firms' efforts to resume production. Idle workers and idle machines pushed prices down, delaying the recovery. We cannot let it happen again.

(c) 2020, The Washington Post Writers Group

On being our better selves

By kathleen parker
On being our better selves

KATHLEEN PARKER COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, April 5, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Parker clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By KATHLEEN PARKER

PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. -- Sometimes it takes a virus to summon the better angels of our nature, to take liberal license with Abraham Lincoln's famous words.

In his first inaugural address, Lincoln said: "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory ... will yet swell ... when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

His words remind us that throughout our history, our leaders have often risen to outsize challenges with language that has inspired us. Other periods are notable for an absence of lyricism at the lectern -- or before television cameras and microphones. As I researched Lincoln's words, it was jarring to hear Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., criticizing California's school closings as "overkill" in response to COVID-19, and that "children could have went back to school in two weeks to four weeks."

In such moments, we find it necessary to inspire ourselves. And Americans, though rabidly divided, are doing just that. More than a few times, I've heard strangers say, in so many words, "We're supposed to learn something from this." Coastal residents, especially in the Bible Belt, tend to be, shall we say, spiritually alert, often to others' benefit. Frequently, this perspective coaxes out the question: What can I do to help?

This isn't to say we humans are reliably angelic, especially not when we're on the hunt for bathroom tissue. At the local Publix, which opens at 8 a.m., at least 100 people had gathered in the parking lot Friday by 7:30 a.m. When the gates opened, caffeinated demons rushed in. One of the shoppers, Pawleys Island lawyer Elizabeth "Muffy" Kneece, told me it was a surreal sight as masked neighbors skipped the niceties -- and the carts -- and sprinted to the paper-products aisle.

Well, they did say we're at war, didn't they?

Cognitive dissonance surrounds us. Nature is grand-jete-ing through springtime, taunting us with azure skies and dazzling us with color, while we ponder darkly the unseen microscopic world of bat viruses that seem bent on wiping out the human race. There's an ambient, almost universal, sense that any minute it may be our turn.

One escape, people have found, is by turning outward to help others, starting in your own backyard. This may mean standing on the balcony and singing arias for neighbors. Or, say, running a marathon in your small garden, as one British man did, raising $22,000 for COVID-19 relief. Church of Christ parishioners in nearby Georgetown, South Carolina, gathered at the local hospital parking lot to pray and sing their appreciation to employees leaving during a shift change.

Here in Pawleys Island, the loaves-and-fishes parable is becoming a reality. Restaurateur Josh Quigley, who co-owns three restaurants along The Grand Strand coastal highway, decided to feed people -- at no cost. After having to furlough 300 employees, keeping only managers employed at reduced salaries, Quigley wanted to do something to help.

He first consulted with local Episcopal rector William Keith, to figure out how to feed first responders. (Father Wil is also chaplain for the local fire department.) But before their brainstorming session was over on the eve of their experiment, which launched Thursday, they decided to make the food available to anyone who showed up. Copying the model created by One World Everybody Eats, a network of about 50 pay-as-you-can cafes around the country, Quigley created baked-pasta take-out meals to feed families of four to eight.

If you could pay the $5 cost of the meal, fine. If not, Quigley said the restaurant was earning enough from its other take-out customers to cover the cost of feeding those in need. Father Wil hopes to press other restaurants into service, taking turns one night a week so that locals can feed their families every night.

These unheralded efforts, small perhaps in their scope but vast in their impact, are a useful reminder that we (BEG ITAL)are(END ITAL) learning something, as we try to build a better foxhole. Or, perhaps, those better angels of our nature (BEG ITAL)are(END ITAL) touching the mystic chords of memory, just like the man said.

When we get to the other side of this pandemic, the challenge will be to keep these bonds of affection -- and to remember that we are not enemies, but, indeed, friends.

Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Next year, may we be together

By ruth marcus
Next year, may we be together

RUTH MARCUS COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, April 5, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Marcus clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Ruth Marcus

WASHINGTON -- The brisket is in the freezer, the matzoh in the pantry, but this Passover will be different from all other Passovers, a wan, anxious version of itself.

Other Jewish holidays are holier, but none is more communal. We Jews are, by definition, not social distancers; it takes 10 to make a minyan, the quorum required for public prayer. And a Passover Seder is the ultimate antithesis of social distancing. We are commanded to come together to retell the Passover story, to share it with our children, even those too young to comprehend.

There is nothing sadder than a sparse Seder table, nothing more Jewish than generations and siblings and cousins, friends and friends of friends, invited to join. "Let all who are hungry come and eat," we say, holding aloft the matzoh. As the meal concludes, the children open the door for Elijah the prophet.

This is a holiday of hospitality and open doors, not a ritual to be experienced six feet apart or enacted in cyberspace. And yet, distance we must, and discover alternate ways of fulfilling the commandment, "You shall tell your child on that very day: It is because of this that God did for me when I went out from Egypt."

I am lucky in this regard: My children were not supposed to be home for the Seder; now they have returned, and they and their boyfriends have quarantined enough that the six of us can limp through a mini-Seder on Wednesday night, one where the specified practices assume new resonance. Ordinarily, we dispense with the ritual hand-washing; this year I imagine we will count the full 20 seconds, both times. Ordinarily, we break off and pass around bits of the afikoman, the piece of matzoh set aside to serve as a symbolic dessert; this year we will come up with an alternative.

If I can find a chicken in the grocery store, if I can snag a delivery spot, there will be matzoh ball soup, even if it is not safe for Grandma to come and make the matzoh balls with my daughters, as she usually does. But can Grandma -- my 85-year-old mother, who has been sewing face masks at her nearby retirement community as soon as the material arrives -- safely join us? Can my brothers and their family? Can we put all the leaves in the table and sit Grandma apart, at the very end?

In my head, I know the right answer is no. Grandma has Zoom on her iPad; she can follow along. In my heart, this is killing me. There has never been a Passover -- not the terrible year my father was in the hospital recovering from open heart surgery; not the even worse one that he was in a nursing home, trying without success to recover from his broken hip -- that we have been apart.

One measure of the Passover imperative to gather came in Israel, where a group of Orthodox rabbis authorized videoconferencing for Seders as long as the link was launched before the holiday began -- this despite the fact that Orthodox Jews would ordinarily not be permitted to use electricity, as on the sabbath.

The exception, the rabbis wrote, was justified "to remove sadness from adults and the elderly, to give them motivation to continue fighting for their lives." Israel's chief rabbinate overruled the rabbis, but even the willingness to consider relaxing the rules makes the point.

It is a bitter irony of the pandemic that this is a holiday about plagues, visited by God on the Egyptians in order to persuade Pharaoh to let the Jewish slaves go. Passover, of course, refers to the sign, marked in lamb's blood on the doors of Jewish households, to instruct the Angel of Death to pass over their houses as God unleashed his 10th and most terrible plague, the slaying of the first-born.

At the Seder, we dip our fingers into a glass of wine and recite the names of the plagues in order: Dam (blood). Tz'fardea (frogs). Kinnim (vermin). The spilled wine recognizes, we are told, the suffering of the Egyptian people, even as we rejoice in our own liberation.

This year, needless to say, there is an 11th plague and little rejoicing. If the first 10 had a godly purpose, to release the Jewish people from bondage, I recoil from discerning a divine hand in this one. The virus unleashed itself on us, and we failed to prepare for or respond adequately to its menace. This time, no sacrificial lamb can ensure that the Angel of Death will pass us by.

The Seder ends with the invocation "L'Shana Haba'ah B'Yerushalayim." Next year in Jerusalem. It is a statement not simply of geography but of yearning for a better world. This year, that yearning is made manifest. L'Shana Haba'ah. Next year may we be together. Next year may we be healthy. Next year, God willing, back to normal.

Ruth Marcus' email address is ruthmarcus@washpost.com.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

A sign of the hunger to come

By catherine rampell
A sign of the hunger to come

THE MILLENNIAL VIEW

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT RELEASE)

(For Rampell clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Catherine Rampell

At one food pantry in Central Texas, the queue of cars waiting to pick up boxes of food stretches a quarter-mile. In Dayton, Ohio, the line extends about a mile.

In Pittsburgh, it's miles, plural, as families wait hours so they won't go hungry.

Across the country, one of the less visible parts of the social safety net -- tens of thousands of food pantries and food banks -- is starting to fray. The federal government must do more before it unravels.

Unsurprisingly, demand for food assistance is surging.

Nearly 10 million Americans lost their jobs in just the latter half of March, according to initial unemployment benefits claims, and many of those workers are struggling to pay their bills. Children are stuck home from school, which means parents who had relied on free or reduced-price school lunches are scrambling to assemble or pick up additional meals during the week. Grocery stores cannot stock products as quickly as people want to purchase them, and many households with vulnerable family members fear cramming into crowded supermarkets.

And so Americans who never saw themselves at risk of food insecurity are turning to private nonprofits that distribute free meals.

In surveys of food banks conducted from March 19 to 23 by Feeding America, the nation's largest organization for domestic hunger relief, 92% reported increases in demand for food assistance. The size of the increase varies by location, with some reporting doubling or even septupling their usual distributions. Dayton's The Foodbank Inc. served about 175 to 200 households per day before the crisis; one day last week, it distributed food boxes to 667 households through its limited-hours, drive-through-only service.

"I'm worried about running out of food," says Chief Executive Michelle Riley.

Just as demand has surged, donations from local grocers and supermarkets have plummeted. Understandably, many have little inventory left over to donate. About two-thirds of food banks surveyed nationwide have experienced a decline in food donations, Feeding America reports.

Meanwhile, these organizations' other expenses have gone up.

About two-thirds have reported a decline in volunteers -- partly because volunteers tend to be retirees, older people who are more vulnerable to the coronavirus. Some organizations, such as ECHOS in Houston, have been offering their paid staff temporary raises in gratitude for their willingness to continue working under stressful conditions. ECHOS and other organizations have had to buy new software and supplies to adapt to social-distancing measures that require some staff to work remotely, and others to implement new food-delivery logistics on-site.

And as the economy sinks into recession, many worry that the private donations they rely on will dry up.

"No crisis has ever strained our ability to serve those in need as much as coronavirus," says Derrick Chubbs, president and chief executive of the Central Texas Food Bank. His organization did not have money set aside in its operating budget to purchase food needed to replace disappearing grocery donations. The cancellation of a major Austin music festival, which usually raises about $200,000 for the food bank, has intensified the financial strain.

The federal government has taken steps designed to beef up food assistance. These include funding for additional commodity purchases from farmers, for emergency food programs; and allowing states to temporarily give more households the maximum food-stamp benefit.

Much more needs to be done.

First, the Agriculture Department needs to reduce cumbersome paperwork requirements for food banks and food pantries. It usually does this after natural disasters, when the goal is to serve as many people as quickly as possible. The measure seems doubly important during a disaster caused not by a hurricane but by an infectious disease, when trading pens and paperwork back and forth is risky.

But USDA officials have dragged their feet on waiving such requirements.

Second, Congress needs to pass "phase four" coronavirus relief legislation that increases the maximum value of food-stamp benefits, as it did in response to the Great Recession. (The Families First Coronavirus Response Act allowed states to give more households the maximum benefit but did not raise the ceiling for benefits.)

Every single food bank, food pantry and anti-poverty organization I've spoken with pleaded for this. Not because more generous food-stamp assistance would put more money into their coffers. It won't. But it would put more funds into the hands of low-income Americans, enabling them to purchase more groceries through commercial retailers. This would reduce some of the burden on food pantries and, moreover, serve as effective fiscal stimulus.

The hours-long lines at food pantries around the country are an early indicator of the hunger to come. Better to get ahead of the problem now.

Catherine Rampell's email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

This is the scary part. But Americans will get through this.

By megan mcardle
This is the scary part. But Americans will get through this.

MEGAN MCARDLE COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT RELEASE)

(For McArdle clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Megan McArdle

WASHINGTON -- This is the scary part.

I had intended to write about what the new jobless figures mean: more than 6 million people filed for unemployment in the past week, roughly 10 million in the past fortnight. This was expected, and necessary. But it is also the point when the realities of the virus, the realities of the economic damage we're taking to stave it off, all become undeniable, and quite terrifying. And after you've said that, I'm not sure what else there is to add.

I'd like to tell you this isn't as bad as it seems. But it seems bad because it is bad. We are living through something common in human history but unfamiliar to us: a global outbreak of a killing disease that is going to take a lot of lives and leave us all poorer.

Our only advantage is that some of us live in countries so rich that we can try to fight it with an entirely novel strategy: Everyone sit still until the virus runs out of new victims. Then slowly try to spin up the wheels of commerce, ever-vigilant for signs of another outbreak that will require us to scurry back into our homes.

The planet's apex predators are learning once again to live like prey.

Living in fear is hateful to me, no matter how necessary. I'd imagine you loathe it, too. So I decided to ask different question: As we sit isolated in our homes, with nothing but a steady stream of awful news for company, what's the best way to face this bravely and cheerfully?

Well, if you find out, please do let me know. In the meantime, here are a few things that have been helping me.

First, community. Americans are checking in on elderly neighbors, calling friends on other coasts or continents, sharing recipes and sourdough starters, clapping for the health-care workers on the front lines. This human instinct for helping each other is heartwarming, but more importantly, it's our secret weapon. Even more than language or tools, community and cooperation are what separate us from most other species. It's how we cured tuberculosis, split the atom, went to the moon. It's how we'll fix COVID-19, too.

So I remind myself of the courage of doctors and nurses risking their lives to save others, not just despite the virus, but despite the fact that we accidentally cut their pay. I remember the unprecedented global collaboration happening behind the front lines, where humans are cracking COVID-19's genetic code, fast-tracking vaccines and sharing everything they've learned about treatment, real time, so an invention that's keeping doctors safer in Taiwan soon shows up on the other side of the planet.

Human history can sometimes look like a race between the selfish and the incompetent, and the decent people who do the right thing. Well, the latter group has been pulling ahead for the past 15,000 years, and now has a comfortable lead. I'm betting on them to win this round too, hauling the rest of humanity across the finish line behind them.

History comforts me in another way: Like you, I am descended from a long line of people who would consider my current worries some easy living.

On one side, they crammed more than a hundred people into a ship the size of a large house, taking 63 seasick days to reach a wild land they'd never seen. Almost half their shipmates would die that winter, an ocean away from everyone they'd ever known. On the other side, my ancestors survived an even more perilous journey on the infamous "coffin ships," fleeing a famine that ultimately denuded their island of half its population in the space of a decade.

Maybe your ancestors came here some other way: in chains through the brutal Middle Passage, in steerage fleeing the pogroms of Russia or the Holocaust, the persecution of the Huguenots or the Armenian genocide. Or perhaps they were already here when the Pilgrims landed and endured European plagues followed by a centuries of massacre and displacement.

What they all have in common -- what we have in common -- is that they endured. Their blood runs in our veins; we were made to handle this, and much worse.

No matter how bad it gets, thanks to the hard work and technological innovations of those generations before us, for Americans, this crisis will still be rather mild and very brief, as human disasters go. And if we all make a real effort to cut off every possible avenue of transmission, we can make it even shorter: knock the caseload back to the point where covid-19 can be contained with aggressive testing and contact tracing, followed by spot quarantines, rather than nationwide lockdowns.

If so, we can get the economy restarted before too much of the damage becomes permanent.

That's obviously not easy, and it's going to be expensive, no matter what. But even when the news goes from bad to worse to unbelievably terrible, I never stop believing that we can do it. What's more, knowing my fellow Americans, I believe that we will.

Read more:

Megan McArdle: Covid-19 is going to do to businesses what it has done to people

Cathy Merrill: This is more than a 'hiatus' for my small business

Megan McArdle: Need motivation to stay home? Do it for our supply chains.

Craig Spencer: A day in the life of a New York emergency room doctor

Canceled surgeries, delayed testing and lost jobs: How the coronavirus is affecting lives

Danielle Allen: A better way to defeat the virus and restore the economy

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