Urgently Needed to Protect Our People and Our Economy: The Next Steps Congress Must Take to Counter the Pandemic


April 2, 2020

The health crisis and economic crisis are intertwined. The economy will not improve until people can be safe enough to leave their homes. For that, we need COVID-19 testing, treatment, and time. And the economy will not improve if the testing, treatment, and time out of work have buried people in debt and caused them to lose their jobs or homes. In every economic downturn, ensuring that low- and moderate-income people have money to spend is the most effective way to jump-start the economy. That is especially true in this deep crisis.

Patients wearing face masks and personal protective equipment wait on line for COVID-19 testing outside Elmhurst Hospital Center, in New York.                             Photo Credit: John Minchillo/ AP

Congress must meet basic needs, and while the legislation enacted so far took important steps forward, we still urgently need

  • Free COVID-19 treatment, so people do not have to get bankrupted to get well. In this public health crisis we must treat everyone, including immigrants, people in detention, prisons or jails, and the homeless.
  • More income help that reaches people who need it most:
    • Access to unemployment compensation must be expanded and extended through the economic downturn, not just for the period of this pandemic outbreak, with permanent improvements allowing for automatic countercyclical responsiveness. Paid leave must be expanded to reach all workers.
    • If high unemployment persists, as many economists now predict, it will be necessary to make more than one round of cash payments. The already-enacted payments and any subsequent ones must be made easily available to those who do not have to file tax forms. The Administration has just announced it will provide recovery payments directly in Social Security beneficiaries’ monthly income. Congress should require the Administration to do the same for other benefits, including SSI, SSDI, Veterans’ or other income assistance.
    • The maximum and minimum SNAP food benefits must increase – this help is urgently needed and it gets right back into the economy.
    • We need to keep people in their homes – moratoriums for all evictions, foreclosures, and water shut-offs, and protection for homeless people, including safe housing, with emergency assistance to help prevent or end homelessness. We must prevent all forms of debt from choking off people’s hopes of recovery, whether from housing costs, high interest loans, or student debt.
  • Congress must make sure services reach people: More state, local, tribal and territorial aid will be needed, including fair distribution to the District of Columbia, to ensure that there are enough workers and adequate systems to administer benefits and programs. The federal Medicaid FMAP rate should be further increased, providing more incentives for states to use Medicaid to provide COVID testing and treatment to all people, regardless of immigration status. To ensure workers are able to carry out their essential tasks, Congress should require the OSHA labor standards to protect health care and other frontline workers.  Congress should stop the Trump Administration’s restrictive work requirements and other discriminatory rules aimed at denying people Medicaid, SNAP, housing, child welfare, or other services.
  • Congress must lay the groundwork for a shared economic recovery: Job creation must be the focus. We can rebuild the economy while advancing our health and family security by investing in our health care, affordable housing, education, clean water, internet, and transportation infrastructure. That must include more jobs at decent pay for caregivers (medical, home care, and child care) and in all these vital infrastructure sectors, with investments targeted to low-income areas and communities of color.

For more information, see CHN’s The CARES Act – Necessary but Not Sufficient to Prevent a Depression (3pp), or contact Deborah Weinstein, dweinstein@chn.org; cell: (301) 873-1324.