All policies addressing this pandemic should center the growing racial disparity in COVID-19 morbidity throughout each issue area. Shocking new data has emerged that show African Americans, Latinx, and Native American people are dying at rates markedly higher than white Americans. Our elected leaders must develop and implement health equity interventions across all components of coronavirus response legislation, collect national health outcomes data by race, and ensure that all new policies urgently address these racial and ethnic disparities.
The House-passed HEROES Act would be an excellent start in addressing the struggles and pains many families are facing during this pandemic--pains that must be addressed immediately to lift both families and our economy. It also would provide our states, localities, municipalities and territories with much needed support as they begin to see massive budgetary restrictions caused by the pandemic and economic downturn, and our health care system with the funding and resources it needs more than five months into this crisis.
Particular elements of the HEROES Act that are especially urgent to include in the next COVID-19 relief package:
- Comprehensive paid family and medical leave and earned paid sick days. The HEROES Act eliminates exemptions in earlier COVID-19 relief bills that left more than 100 million workers without paid leave by covering both large and small employers and by ending the exclusion for health care providers and emergency responders. It also expands the uses of paid sick days and paid leave in vitally important ways, expands working people’s ability to use paid sick days and paid leave, increases the wage replacement workers can access while on leave, expands access to public and nonprofit employees, and provides urgently needed fiscal aid to state and local governments.;
- Increases the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefit by 15 percent and increases funds for school meals and other nutrition programs that are in unprecedented demand;
- Extends unemployment insurance, including continuing the $600 boost past July 31st, and provides a second round of direct payments to families, including immigrant families;
- Prevents people from losing their employer-sponsored health insurance; creates a special enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act; provides additional funding for states’ Medicaid programs and home & community based services; mandates reports to Congress on the race and ethnicity of COVID-19 testing (disability status should also be included in all data collection), hospitalization and mortality; prohibits price gouging on consumer goods and services needed for medical treatment; and provides essential funding for mental health supports, aid to Native American communities, and other urgent health issues like testing, tracing, and treatment;
- Provides no-cost testing and treatment for all, including immigrant communities and ensures that testing and treatment for COVID-19 is covered under emergency Medicaid
- Enhances worker safety;
- Protects and extends relief to all families and essential workers, including green card holders, DACA recipients, Temporary Protected Status-holders, and the 11 million people in undocumented communities;
- Expands the EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) and the Child Tax Credit to support struggling families and repeals the appalling $135 billion Millionaires Tax Giveaway that the GOP snuck into the CARES Act;
- Provides $75 million for rapid response grants through Title II of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. These funds will help support a variety of services, including testing of young people and staff in facilities and continued access to education and community support for youth returning home, at this time when positive tests in secure settings continue to rise to an alarming degree;
- Supports state, local, territorial and tribal governments; and
- Provides resources to secure our elections, protect the Census, and preserve the U.S. Post Office.
Building upon the wide-reaching, vital components of the HEROES Act, the next COVID-19 relief package must also include the following urgently needed elements to lift both families and our economy. It should:
- Adopt the Child Care is Essential Act, which provides comprehensive and robust child care funding (at a minimum of $50 billion) to support and ensure programs don’t close their doors permanently and can reopen, safely and meeting all the regulations as states reopen;
Provide the funding to reopen schools and campuses safely by providing robust funding to support educators, support staff, students, and families during this pandemic. This includes investing in our education systems at least $175 billion to stabilize education funding, at least $4 billion to equip students with hot spots and devices to help narrow the digital divide and close the homework gap, and at least $56 million in direct funding for personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Include measures to reduce the number of people who are incarcerated to minimize the spread and impact of COVID-19 by directing the federal Bureau of Prisons and states to release individuals in jails, prisons, and detention centers who do not pose a public safety risk, such as families held by ICE, pregnant women, elderly people, those housed in pre-trial detention, those held on technical parole or probation violations, and those who are nearing their release date. Provide guidance to states on releasing people from prisons, jails, and detention centers. In addition, include policies that guarantee safe conditions and ensure that transparent plans are in place to address the COVID-19 crisis for incarcerated individuals;
- Redirect criminal justice and police force funding that is not specifically for COVID-19 health and safety precautions or supporting decarceration to other programs;
- Tie the phase-out of vital income-support programs like unemployment insurance and SNAP to economic indicators, not arbitrary dates;
- Make permanent paid family and medical leave and earned sick time for all workers. The pandemic will end, but we know the need for paid family and medical leave and earned sick time will not. Access to these essential earned benefits increase workforce attachment and increase family's economic security;
- 90-day refills of prescriptions and medical supplies for people with Medicaid, CHIP, and private insurance
The pandemic has laid bare cracks in our public policies – cracks that have become catastrophes for millions. We are struggling through the greatest health and economic challenge the country has faced in a century. There is no time to waste. The moms of America expect our elected leaders to take immediate action to address these concerns and pass the next COVID-19 relief package immediately.
*For more information or to discuss any of these policy pieces, please contact Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Kristin@MomsRising.org