Our country is now facing its worst crisis in modern history. We are in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic that could lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans and infect millions of others, and we are entering an economic downturn that could be worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s.
In this unprecedented moment in modern American history, it is imperative that we respond in an unprecedented way. That means that Congress must pass, in the very near future, the boldest piece of legislation ever written in modern history.
There are many, many issues that must be addressed in our response to this pandemic, and working together, we will make sure they are addressed.
1. Addressing the Employment Crisis and Providing Immediate Financial Relief
Last week, 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment. This week that number doubled to 6.6 million claims — 10 times higher than any other week on record. It is certain that well over 10 million people have lost their jobs — more than in the Wall Street crash of 2008.
There is little doubt that we are facing an economic crisis that could be even worse than the Great Depression. The St. Louis Federal Reserve has projected that 47 million people may become unemployed by the end of June, with unemployment reaching 32 percent. We must make sure that every worker in America continues to receive their paycheck during this crisis and we must provide immediate financial relief to everyone in this country.
- Keep workers on payroll. Just as other countries have, including the UK, Norway, and Denmark, we must make sure that every worker in America continues to receive their paycheck during this crisis, retroactive to the beginning of the crisis. An important precedent for that approach was taken in the recent stimulus package in which grants were provided to the airlines for the sole purpose of maintaining the paychecks and benefits of some 2 million workers in that industry through September 30th.
- Monthly direct payments of $2,000 every person in the country. We must provide direct, recurring, monthly payments to every person in the country, regardless of income, tax filing, or immigration status. That means reaching every person in the United States, including the undocumented, the homeless, the unbanked, and young adults excluded from the CARES ACT.
- Guarantee paid medical and sick leave to all workers. Anyone who is sick or who needs to stay home should be able to stay home during this emergency and receive their paycheck. At a time when half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck and must go to work in order to take care of their family, we do not want to see people going to work who are sick and can spread the coronavirus. This is especially important for hourly workers who may not have sufficient — or any — paid sick days to avoid coming into work when feeling ill.
- Hazard pay for essential and frontline workers. Workers who are on the front lines of this crisis – including those who work in grocery stores, nurses, warehouse workers, paramedics, pharmacy workers, farmworkers, food processing workers, truck drivers, postal workers, delivery drivers, and janitors – must be provided hazard pay, child care, and safe working conditions. Essential state and municipal workers, such as sanitation workers and transit workers, will receive hazard pay as well, to ensure states and cities have the personnel they need to fight this crisis.
- Guarantee funding parity for the territories, tribes, and DC. We must ensure funding parity for all health and economic coronavirus relief programs.
- Guarantee these programs to everyone in this country, regardless of immigration status. The coronavirus does not differentiate based on immigration status and our economic and health response must not either. Guaranteeing all residents the assistance they need makes us safer, stronger, and is the morally right thing to do.
2. We Must Guarantee Health Care to All
Let’s be clear: we were facing a catastrophic health care crisis before the pandemic, and now that crisis has become much, much worse. Already, 87 million people are uninsured or underinsured. Layoffs will mean tens of millions of people more will lose their current insurance, which will result in countless deaths and bankruptcies. Already in the last two weeks, an estimated 3.5 million people have lost their employer-sponsored insurance.
And as the pandemic grows, we are seeing more and more reports of people who have delayed treatment due to concerns about cost. In this pandemic, uninsurance will lead to deaths and more COVID-19 transmissions.
- Use Medicare to cover all health care expenses. Medicare must be empowered to pay all of the deductibles, co-payments and out-of-pocket healthcare expenses for the uninsured and the underinsured. No one in America who is sick, regardless of immigration status, should be afraid to seek the medical treatment they need during this national pandemic.
3. Use the Defense Production Act to Produce the Equipment and Testing We Need
Unbelievably, in the United States right now, doctors and nurses are unnecessarily putting their lives on the line treating people suffering from the coronavirus because they lack personal protective equipment like masks, gloves, and surgical gowns. The CDC has directed health professionals to use homemade gear like bandanas or scarves, and some workers at the VA are being told to re-use one surgical mask for a week at a time. HHS estimated that our country needs 3.5 billion masks in response to this crisis. We must protect our frontline health care workers and immediately take all measures necessary to manufacture and distribute all the protective equipment, tests, and medical supplies that we need.
- Immediately and forcefully use the Defense Production Act to direct the production of all of the personal protective equipment, ventilators and other medical supplies needed. President Trump has utilized the Defense Production Act thousands of times for the military and for enforcement of his immigration policies, yet he has resisted using its power to save lives during the pandemic. That is unacceptable. We must also use this authority to produce antibody tests so we can begin figuring out who has already contracted the virus and has developed some immunity to COVID-19.
- Safety standards for health care workers. OSHA must adopt a strong emergency standard to protect health care workers, patients, and the public during this crisis.
- Crack down aggressively on price gougers and hoarders, and use any means necessary to secure supplies. Companies and individuals who are using this crisis as an opportunity to turn a profit at the expense of human lives and public safety will be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
4. Make Sure No One Goes Hungry
Even before this crisis hit, one in every seven kids in America was going hungry and nearly 5.5 million seniors in our country struggled with hunger. Already in this crisis we see lines at food banks and growing concern that our most vulnerable communities and those recently unemployed may struggle to feed their families. We must ensure we are getting food to the most vulnerable in our communities and guarantee no person goes hungry during this crisis.
- Increase SNAP benefits and expand SNAP and WIC. As communities face record levels of food insecurity, we must increase SNAP benefits, expand eligibility, and expand the WIC program for pregnant mothers, infants, and children.
- Expand the Emergency Food Program. Double funding for the Emergency Food Program (TEFAP) to ensure food banks have food to distribute.
- Expand Meals on Wheels and school meals programs. Where necessary, we must also develop new approaches to deliver food to vulnerable populations — including door-to-door drop offs.
5. Provide Emergency Aid to States and Cities
Even as state and local employees like police officers, firefighters and paramedics work on the front lines of this pandemic, states and cities that pay their salaries are facing enormous budgetary pressures. The costs of fighting the coronavirus combined with a drop in tax revenue for states and municipalities due to social distancing measures and economic conditions threaten to leave our states and cities without the resources they need to respond to this pandemic. We must provide federal support for states and municipalities to weather this crisis.
- Direct fiscal aid to states and cities. Congress must provide $600 billion in direct fiscal aid to states and cities to ensure they have the personnel and funding necessary to respond to this crisis.
- The Federal Reserve must support states and municipalities. The Federal Reserve must establish programs to provide direct fiscal support and budgetary relief to states and municipalities.
6. Suspend Monthly Payments
Even before this crisis, half of the people in our country were living paycheck to paycheck. In America today, over 18 million families are paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing. Now, with growing unemployment, families are facing financial ruin if we do not act quickly and boldly.
- Suspend monthly expenses like rent, mortgage payments, medical debt, and consumer debt collection for four months. We must ensure that these payments are not deferred, coming due as soon as the emergency is lifted, but completely suspended.
- Cancel all student loan payments for the duration of this crisis. More than 45 million Americans struggle with $1.6 trillion in student debt. We must lift this burden and cancel student debt payments for the duration of this crisis. Long-term, we must cancel all student debt and make public colleges, universities, and trade schools tuition free and debt free.
- Place an immediate moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, and utility shut-offs. No one should lose their home during this crisis and everyone must have access to clean water, electricity, heat and air conditioning. And we must restore utility services to any customers who have had their utilities shut off.