Congress Must Act Now to Protect the Most Vulnerable from the Coronavirus


As our communities deal with the spread of the coronavirus, federal leaders must take bold steps to ensure the safety of the public, particularly the most vulnerable among us. While this virus will hit communities regardless of race, income, or zip code, this pandemic will cause both health and economic disruptions that exacerbate the existing disparities for low-income people and communities of color that have long harmed our nation.      

CALL YOUR SENATOR

Please call your senators and ask them to pass the emergency House bill to help us navigate this public health and economic crisis. 

Early Saturday morning, the House passed an emergency bill that would allocate billions of dollars for paid sick leave, unemployment insurance, free testing, and other measures to help those impacted by this crisis. This is a necessary starting point that the Senate must pass now.

Unfortunately, these measures are narrow in scope, leaving 80 percent of workers unprotected. While some large employers are doing the right thing and giving employees sick leave, a national policy is the most effective measure in this time of unprecedented national crisis. We need comprehensive legislation to follow this initial bill to protect all people, especially those with the greatest health and economic risks. 

We Need Comprehensive Public Health and Economic Supports

Today, 100 million people — one in three people in the US — live in or on the brink of poverty where an illness, job loss, or unexpected expense can be financially insurmountable. At a time when officials are urging the public to stay home when they fall ill, millions of people lack paid sick leave and can’t afford to miss work to care for themselves or a loved one. This puts many people at risk for being the vector of an illness that can prove deadly for the elderly and immunocompromised. And as businesses take precautions or are forced through social-distancing norms to close, the resulting loss of income for workers and owners will cause increased numbers of people to fall behind on bills and risk their housing, health, utility, and food security.

We must plan and act with the most vulnerable in mind to both stop the spread of this virus, and ensure that weeks and months of addressing this public health crisis don’t turn into years of economic hardship.

Specifically, we are calling on federal leaders to champion the following policies:

  • Pass a Paid Leave Policy for All Workers – Low-wage workers who cannot afford to lose a day's wages because of illness are less likely to seek medical care (for themselves and for their families) than workers who do have paid sick leave, and are 1.5 times more likely to go to work with contagious illnesses. This means that lack of paid sick leave is not only a problem for individual workers, but also a public health threat. Building on the House-passed version, a paid sick leave policy that covers all workers is urgently needed to address the new coronavirus outbreak and beyond to help protect the health and safety of the population.
  • Ensure Emergency Income During Work Disruptions – We need to provide guaranteed income to help those facing disruptions to their income due to lost opportunities, funding streams, or customers. This includes small business owners and their employees, community-serving nonprofits, freelancers and artists, and workers in a gig economy who are not eligible for unemployment benefits but still must make their rent or mortgage payments.
  • Place a Moratorium on All Evictions and Foreclosures and Ensure Housing Stability – We are in the midst of a housing crisis where 21 million renters and 17 million homeowners pay more than a third of their income on housing bills, making them extremely vulnerable to income disruptions. We need a moratorium on all evictions and foreclosures to prevent the economic fallout of the virus. We must also provide emergency housing vouchers for all unhoused people, and those facing eviction. And at a minimum, we need to stop displacing homeless encampments, and take measures to increase access to water, hand-washing stations, and sanitation at current encampments to support critical health outcomes.
  • Prevent Utility Shut-Offs and Restore Water Service to All Households – Loss of income for households, workers, and small businesses will cause increased numbers of people to fall behind on bills and face utility services shut-offs. Over a third of US households are already at risk of inability to pay rising water bills. This is particularly concerning as washing our hands is our first line of defense against the virus. All public and private utilities should halt any utility shut-offs during this crisis, restore service to households currently experiencing a shutoff, and provide water delivery to all households with contaminated water systems.
  • Ensure Hospitals and Health-Care Centers Are Safe Places for Immigrants and Anyone Seeking Care – We must eliminate all barriers to people seeking proper medical attention, regardless of insurance or lack thereof. This also includes ensuring no one’s immigration status will be questioned when seeking assistance. Hospitals and health-care facilities must make it clear in all languages that immigration status will not be questioned, and should take steps to ensure immigration enforcement officials are not permitted in buildings.
  • Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Through the Incarcerated Population – In the US, 2.3 million people are exposed to overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in prisons and jails, which will contribute to the spread of the coronavirus as the incarcerated population interacts with staff and other visitors. At a minimum, we must ensure incarcerated people have access to medical care and personal hygiene products; release elderly people with underlying medical problems to parole supervision; and release those who have an anticipated release date in 2020 and 2021 to parole supervision.

We are heartened by the swift actions that leaders in cities across the country are taking, proving once again that local leaders are national leaders. But we need policymakers at all levels to urgently address the threat of this current pandemic while ensuring we protect all struggling communities beyond this crisis.

CALL YOUR SENATOR

Please call your members to make sure they act without delay and strengthen the policies to help us navigate this public health and economic crisis.

Author

Tracey Ross
Tracey Ross