The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Advocates for Fiscally Responsible COVID Relief
Our country is now facing its worst crisis in modern history in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic and an economic downturn that could be worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s. It is imperative that we respond in an unprecedented way requiring that Congress pass, in the very near future, the essential legislation required.
1. Addressing the Employment Crisis and Providing Immediate Financial Relief
We must make sure that every worker in America continues to receive assistance during this crisis and we must provide immediate financial relief to everyone in this country.
- Help 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 earn a living during this 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. However, temporary measure must be replaced with programs that put people back to work, and provide assistance to those who can’t work.
- Monthly direct payments to every person in the country. We must provide direct, recurring, monthly assistance 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, should 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
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. Empower Medicare to Lead Health Care Response
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services should receive all the federal funding necessary to ensure universal emergency health care coverage for all, regardless of income or immigration status. CMS would work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), other federal agencies, and the private sector to centralize information about what’s needed and direct resources to ensure that all health care needs are met at no charge for the duration of this crisis.
- Cover all health care treatment for free, including coronavirus testing, treatment, and the eventual vaccine. Under this proposal, Medicare would ensure that everyone in America, regardless of existing coverage, can receive the health care they need during this crisis. We cannot live in a nation where if you have the money you get the treatment you need to survive, but if you’re working class or poor you get to the end of the line. That is morally unacceptable.
- Greatly increase our health care capacity to handle a surge in cases. There is a major shortage of ICU units and ventilators that are needed to respond to this crisis. The federal government must work aggressively with the private sector to make sure that this equipment is available to hospitals and the rest of the medical community.
- Increase provider capacity. Our current health care system does not have the doctors and nurses we currently need. We are understaffed. During this crisis, we need to mobilize medical residents, retired medical professionals, and other medical personnel to help us deal with this crisis.
- Implement successful testing models. Our testing capacity and process has been woefully inadequate. We must massively increase the availability of test kits for the coronavirus and the speed at which the tests are processed. We must look to successful coronavirus testing models in other countries and implement best practices here.
- Use the Defense Production Act to mobilize resources. Under this proposal, we would use existing emergency authority to dramatically scale up production in the United States of critical supplies such as masks, ventilators, and protective equipment for health care workers.
- Utilize the National Guard, the Army Corp of Engineers and other military resources. Several governors have already called in state National Guard forces. Our armed forces are trained for emergency response and must be immediately activated to build mobile hospitals and testing facilities, assist providers, reopen hospitals that have been shut down and expand our health care capacity in at-risk areas.
- Dramatically expand community health centers. Pass emergency funding to dramatically expand access to community health centers which provide primary, dental, and mental health care, as well as low-cost prescription drugs, to nearly 30 million Americans, 63 percent of whom are racial and ethnic minorities. We need to greatly expand our primary health care capabilities in this country, and that includes expanding community health care centers.
- Keep health care workers safe. We need to make sure that doctors, nurses and medical professionals have the instructions and personal protective equipment that they need
- Ensure federal funding parity for the territories and tribes for any and all health care relief programs.
4. Use the Defense Production Act to Produce the Equipment and Testing We Need
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 must use his power to save lives during the pandemic. 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 should be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
5. Establish an Emergency Economic Crisis Finance Agency to manage the economic crisis
This emergency agency, modeled after the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, would be empowered to cover affected businesses’ payroll, make zero percent loans and loan guarantees to businesses, finance new construction of factories, emergency shelters, and production of emergency supplies such as masks and ventilators, and create new jobs and economic development. This agency would provide all the necessary funding for fighting this economic crisis.
- Keep workers on payroll. Small and medium sized businesses, especially those in severely impacted industries such as restaurants, bars, and local retail need immediate relief. We must tell these businesses, who are being forced to lay off their entire staff or possibly even shut down through no fault of their own, that we would not allow them to go out of business. The federal government would work with affected businesses to provide direct payroll costs for small and medium sized businesses to keep workers employed until this crisis has passed. We would provide all necessary assistance, including tax deferrals, utility payment suspension, rental assistance, affordable loans, and eviction protection for struggling businesses. When this crisis passes, we will be ready to start our economy up again without the risk of losing the stores and restaurants integral to our communities. None of this financial assistance shall be used for executive bonuses, stock buybacks or profiteering.
- Provide direct, emergency $2,000 cash payments to every person in America every month for the duration of the crisis. We are already in a recession. Workers are losing income while their bills pile up. We must begin issuing assistance for every person in America to provide households with the help they need to pay their essential bills and take care of their families.
- Under this plan, the IRS, the Social Security Administration, the Treasury Department, credit unions, community banks and other financial institutions would work together to make sure this assistance reaches every American as quickly as possible. Millions of Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and hundreds of thousands have no permanent address. We must make sure we are getting this money into the hands of the most vulnerable.
- It is key that we get this money out and to families as soon as possible, which means we must make the payments universal with little bureaucracy. For those who do not need their payments, we would partner with organizations to take donations from patriotic families who can contribute their payments to fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
- Expand Unemployment Insurance. We must provide emergency unemployment assistance to anyone who loses their job through no fault of their own. Under this proposal, everyone who loses a job must qualify for unemployment compensation at 100 percent of their prior salary with a cap of $75,000 a year.
- Protect non-traditional workers. In addition, those who depend on tips, gig workers, domestic workers, freelancers, and independent contractors shall also qualify for Unemployment Insurance to make up for the income that they lose during this crisis.
- Emergency paid family and medical leave for all. 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 any or sufficient paid sick days to avoid coming into work when feeling ill.
- Guarantee that no one goes hungry. We need to make sure that seniors, people with disabilities and families with children have access to nutritious food. That means expanding the Meals on Wheels program, the school meals programs, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) so that no one goes hungry during this crisis and everyone who cannot leave their home can receive nutritious meals delivered directly to where they live.
- Place an immediate moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, and utility shut-offs, and suspend payment on mortgage loans for primary residencies and utility bills. 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. We must also provide funding for states and localities to provide rental assistance for the duration of the crisis.
- Waive all student loan payments for the duration of the emergency. More than 45 million Americans struggle with $1.6 trillion in student debt. We must lift this burden during the crisis and for one month after. Long-term, we must cancel all student debt and make public colleges, universities, and trade schools tuition free and debt free.
- Construct emergency shelter and utilize empty or vacant lodging. We must ensure the homeless, survivors of domestic violence and college students quarantined off campus are able to receive the shelter, the health care and the nutrition they need and connect those individuals with social services to ensure nobody is left behind. We must also utilize empty hotel beds and other vacant properties to ensure everyone is safely housed during this crisis.
- Use the power of the Federal Reserve to support state and local governments. Through the power granted under section 14(2)(b) of the Federal Reserve Act, the Fed would buy short-term municipal debt securities. This would help stabilize state government finances and provide states and localities the financial support they need to address this health and economic crisis.
- Protect farmers. Suspend all Farm Service Agency loan payments to protect farmers during this crisis, extend crop insurance and emergency loans to all affected farmers, extend rural development loans, and expand the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) to both help alleviate hunger throughout the country and support our farmers during this crisis.
- Ensure federal funding parity for the territories and tribes for any and all economic relief programs.
6. Create an Oversight Agency to Fight Corporate Corruption and Price-Gouging
Our response to this health and economic crisis cannot be another money-making opportunity for corporate America and Wall Street. We need to establish an oversight agency to ensure no one is profiting off of the economic pain and suffering of our people in crisis.
- Bail out working people, not corporate executives. Any emergency credit extensions or loans to insolvent companies or industries as a result of this crisis must come with strict protections and benefits for workers, unions, and customers, not no-strings-attached handouts for executives. During this crisis, we would ban stock buybacks and bonuses for executives. We would put conditions on this financial assistance to make sure that any corporation in America that benefits from emergency aid does not lay off workers, pays workers a livable wage, provides equity to the government, puts workers on corporate boards, and does not rip-off consumers.
- Prevent price gouging by pharmaceutical companies. As soon as a coronavirus vaccine is developed it must be sold for free. Further, all prescription drugs that are developed with taxpayer dollars must be sold at a reasonable price. This agency shall use the federal government’s authority to take away patents from pharmaceutical companies that are gouging consumers and allow generic companies to manufacture prescription drugs at a substantially reduced cost. The pharmaceutical industry must be told in no uncertain terms that the medicines that they manufacture for this crisis would be sold at cost. This is not the time for profiteering or price gouging.
- Investigate and prosecute price-gougers and corrupt dealings. This agency would have the authority to crack down and prosecute illegal price gouging and corruption. It shall also conduct an independent and transparent audit of all of the emergency financing programs to make sure that American taxpayer dollars are not wasted.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. Restructure Monthly Payments on All Loans
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.
- Restructure monthly expenses like rent, mortgage payments, medical debt, and consumer debt collection. We must ensure that these payments are not deferred for too little time, coming due as soon as the emergency is lifted, but restructured through a more sustainable schedule that will satisfy both lenders and borrowers (i.e. landlords and tenants).
- Postpone 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 restructure all student debt and eventually 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.