Congress just passed a $2.2 trillion COVID-19 response bill that is designed to extend funding for healthcare providers and provide economic aid to families which the President signed into law.
The bill that passed included a massive expansion of unemployment insurance and a one-time payment of $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for married couples paired with an additional $500 per child as a means of supporting workers and families.
Large corporations, on the other hand, will receive $500 billion with almost no strings attached and $4 trillion in zero-interest loans while small businesses will receive $357 billion in loans that do not have to be paid back provided workers are retained.
It should surprise no one that most members of Congress are largely supported by corporate PACs, hence why they wrote a bill that gives far more aid to big corporations than ordinary workers.
For most Americans, the cost of their monthly bills (rent, utilities, student loan payments, etc.) exceed $1,200 let alone the cost of groceries.
I am calling on Congress to institute mobile voting and pass a new COVID-19 package that truly meets the needs of this crisis. We need a national Stay At Home order including all non-essential workers, a suspension of all mandatory payments, and a 6-month period in which the government commits to cover the cost of payrolls for workers staying at home.
Paying Companies to Retain Workers
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, if the government wrote paychecks for the entire American workforce, which had a median income of $64,000 in 2019, six months would cost $5 trillion. If you include a phase out for incomes over $400,000 and exclude essential workers whose employers have positive cash flow, the price drops. This may seem like a large number, but in World War II, the US ran budget deficits more than five times our current size as a percentage of the economy. We came out of World War II and built the most durable middle class in the history of the world with incomes rising faster for the poor and working class than at the top.
There’s been a myth that has captured both parties that the federal government cannot spend more money than it brings in through taxation. This is ahistorical nonsense. Public investment creates economic growth whether that be through investments in childcare, education, infrastructure, or research & development. Furthermore, with interest rates at record lows, we have a wide dearth of fiscal space to finance the programs we desperately need before we hit inflation.
Should policymakers insist on raising revenue to finance this spending so as to preemptively strike against potential inflation, I would direct them to the top 1% who hold over $25 trillion in wealth with assets exceeding those of the bottom 80%. A one-time 20% wealth tax paired with a fully-funded Internal Revenue Service would raise enough revenue to entirely finance the program.
Putting Workers First
Beyond keeping workers employed, we should use this opportunity to address the structural power imbalance between labor and capital. By nationalizing employer payrolls, the government will have the power to influence corporate behavior. We should condition our assistance on a commitment to universal collective bargaining, a complete ban on stock buybacks, fair scheduling practices, transparent sexual harassment policies, and worker representation on corporate boards.
After this crisis is over, it will be a failure of leadership if we revert back to a status quo in which titans of industry consolidate their power and extract the wealth of their laborers while leaving them with crumbs. We need to push for a fundamental transformation of the economy that puts workers first.
Direct Cash Transfers
Looking out for workers in large and mid-sized businesses means radically increasing worker power, but independent contractors and small business owners and employees are especially vulnerable to financial collapse. I am pleased that the unemployment insurance expansion passed by the Congress includes gig economy workers who will be able to get monthly benefits equivalent or greater to the average of their monthly paychecks from the past year. However, the unemployment insurance system is wholly unprepared for the unprecedented number of people that have already filed and will file over the coming months.
With an overwhelmed system, benefits will be delayed and gig workers are some of the most vulnerable. We need an emergency cash transfer system that provides immediate relief to working families. While there are several versions of this type of program being debated in the Congress, Congresswoman Tlaib’s proposal is the most robust.
She would send every American a preloaded debit card with $2,000 plus an additional $1,000 per child per month until this crisis is over. In addition to direct cash transfers, it is critical that we do not allow the coronavirus to destroy small businesses. It would devastate our economy and our civil society if cities and towns were filled with vacant buildings and empty storefronts.
Small businesses are the backbone of this country, and we need to make sure that they are taken care of. Congress allocated $367 billion in loans to small businesses that do not have to be paid back. It’s smart to incentivize businesses to keep employers by turning loans into grants. I support the design of the program, but it needs to be doubled in size. In order to adequately respond to this crisis, we need a robust federal response that provides direct cash transfers, support for small businesses, and a guarantee that all workers can stay on payroll.
Medicare for All
If there’s any lesson our policymakers should take away from this, it’s that we need universal healthcare for all as a right. There seems to be a recognition that we shouldn’t place financial barriers in the way of people’s ability to get the tests and treatment they need. It is unequivocally true that if some of us don’t have healthcare, none of us do.
It has never made moral or logical sense to sell healthcare as a for-profit commodity.
It has never made moral or logical sense to allow vulture capitalists and private equity groups to hold hospital beds and medical supplies hostage. It has never made moral or logical sense to force consumers to pay the costs of middlemen health insurance agencies. Studies from across the ideological spectrum have concluded that a single-payer system will save trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives per year. We need Medicare for All, and we need it now.
Without reform to our COVID-19 response, tens of millions of Americans will be out of work and detached from their employer-provided health insurance. Laid off workers will apply for COBRA, the temporary health insurance plan for Americans between jobs and face hefty premiums, co-payments, and deductibles if they’re lucky enough to qualify. Our unemployment insurance system will be overwhelmed with a scale of filings its entirely unprepared for resulting in extended delays for Americans to receive their benefits. The holes in this system will lead to a spike in evictions, destroyed credit, and bankruptcies. We need a course correction, and we need it now. Congress should reconvene and choose to keep workers on their companies’ payrolls.
But remember: I only work for YOU; I only answer to YOU.
In reason, passion, and justice,
Jen Perelman For Congress
PO Box 291332
Davie, FL 33329