When our nation has been tested by a massive, national challenge, there have always been Americans whose everyday jobs have come to the fore. Their work has proven critical to addressing the challenge and eventually returning our nation to normal.
They are the people who Mr. Rogers talked about when he said, “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ ”
Today, those everyday jobs belong to the heroes honored by so many cities every night: our first responders, military, doctors, hospital workers and those men and women in the service industries who return to work day after day, despite incredible risk to their health.
While we celebrate the people on the front lines of our war against the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, it’s important to remember that another group of workers are also working tirelessly to steer the nation back to normal: our government civil servants.
Whether it was when I was working for Oklahoma in Congress or as a board member of the Association of Former Members of Congress, I’ve had an opportunity to talk to my colleagues during this crisis. We all knew how important these public servants were to our work in Congress. The same is true now.
The federal government, in cooperation with states and cities, has gone to great lengths to protect our economy, beginning with four pieces of major bipartisan legislation, passed by Congress, that have spent a record sum on stabilizing the economy, protecting businesses large and small and putting money directly into the bank accounts of our citizens for the first time in the history of our nation.
Administering this universe of economic stabilization programs are the civil servants at the IRS, the U.S. Department of Treasury and throughout government all around our nation. For many of them, it means a brand new job, learned overnight, many times from the confines of their homes, which are, not surprisingly, ill-equipped to run a country of 330 million citizens.
Millions of our fellow countrymen and women became unemployed, easily the largest number since the Great Depression. Because unemployment insurance is handled through the states, they have struggled under the influx. State employees are working as hard as possible to clear the backlog and put money in the hands of workers who have paid into the unemployment system and who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
It is the staff of government programs like Medicaid and Medicare, and the men and women at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who will keep the doctors and hospitals solvent and supplied during this medical crisis.
As our economy reopens, the government must be prepared to assist small- and medium-sized businesses, and ensure that they comply with the best medical practices recommended by the researchers and administrators of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two federal agencies that have been critical in our battle against COVID-19.
Finally, when America is open again, our most visible government civil servants won’t be in the federal government. They will be the men and women in the classrooms, who will greet our children when they return to school, and the construction workers, sanitation workers and public health professionals who have kept our infrastructure running while we’ve been stuck at home.
Americans have always had a love-hate relationship with our government. In times of crisis though, the safety net we all turn to is government. It was built by our fellow citizens, who are working as hard as they can to move our country forward. In emergencies like this, and in the months that will follow it, they will be more important than ever.
As voters, it’s our responsibility to ask those who are in charge of our government to do better. Now though, more than ever, after we praise and thank those on the front lines, let’s also take a moment to thank those who do the everyday jobs that keep our country working, for the hard work they do and the hard work that is to come.
James R. Jones is a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Oklahoma’s 1st Congressional District.