Congress weighs in on COVID-19

Congress weighs in on COVID-19

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law Thursday, provides emergency paid sick and family leave, emergency unemployment insurance and increased food assistance for the growing number of Americans whose finances are being upended by the crisis. But as Elise Gould and Heidi Shierhold of the Economic Policy Institute explain, this bill is only a start, and significantly more federal action is needed:

The bill has some glaring exclusions. Perhaps the most problematic is the carve-out for large businesses; the bill exempts employers with more than 500 workers from its paid leave mandate. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that 11% of workers at private-sector businesses with 500 workers or more do not have access to paid sick leave, and 48% of private-sector workers work in firms with 500 workers or more. … And this does not count the fact that workers at these firms that do provide paid sick days often do not provide enough time for workers to self-quarantine for the recommended 14 days. The bill also makes it possible for the Secretary of Labor to exempt certain health care providers and emergency responders from its paid leave provisions, and to exempt businesses with less than 50 people.


Trump’s healthcare is exposed by coronavirus
The Trump administration has spent much of the past three years trying to roll back the Affordable Care Act. The COVID-19 epidemic has prompted a reversal of that strategy, as the administration is now embracing programs and strategies that it once rejected. The Los Angeles Times’ Noam Levey has more: 

President Trump and his deputies have urged health insurers to make testing for coronavirus free to patients, calling it an “essential benefit,” despite years of pushing to loosen federal rules on what health insurance plans must cover. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, known as CMS, pledged to intensify nursing home inspections, just months after moving to roll back government inspection standards the agency called “burdensome.” And the administration is now moving to make it easier for poor Americans to get care through Medicaid, after championing multiple efforts over the last three years to slash the joint federal and state program and cut millions of people from its rolls.

Checks to all vs Payroll Tax
In the coming recession, massive federal action will be needed to put money in people’s pockets as huge portions of private sector activity grind to a halt. As Congress considers what to do, Steve Wamhoff of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has more on why proposals to mail relief checks to millions of Americans are far more effective at boosting the economy than a payroll tax cut:

A payroll tax cut would help those lucky enough to keep their job and would provide a bigger break to those with more earnings. Sending checks to every household would be a far more effective economic stimulus because it would immediately put money in the hands of everyone who would likely spend it right away, pumping it back into the economy. For example, the Economic Security Project’s proposed Emergency Money to the People (EMP) would provide an initial payment of $2,000 for each adult and $1,000 for each child. If the unemployment rate exceeds a certain level, the government would send up to two additional payments of $750 for each adult and $250 for each child, for a maximum of $3,500 per adult and $1,500 per child in 2020.


Student loan debt should be a part of the economic stimulus package
When the American economy returns to something resembling normal, recent college graduates will face a very different job market than the one they saw when they entered college. Without federal relief, millions of Americans will face an uncertain future burdened by large student loan debt with substantially limited prospects for paying it down. And student loan debt was a crisis even before the coronavirus upended the economy: In 2019, student loan borrowers in America defaulted every 26 seconds, a 14% increase over 2018. That’s why U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ayanna Pressley are advocating that student loan debt cancelation be a part of any coronavirus recovery economic stimulus package. The Student Borrower Protection Center’s Ben Kaufman has more

Beyond possibly costing borrowers thousands of dollars in accrued interest, these defaults cause countless additional spillover effects across borrowers’ lives, including making it harder for them to keep a job, to find a home, and even to maintain their physical health. In turn, these outcomes imply lasting damage for local communities and the economy as a whole, as research continues to show how student debt negatively impacts entrepreneurship, family formation, homeownership, and more.


Programming note:
Are you interested in learning more about the response to COVID-19? Please join the Power Coalition of Equity and Justice and our Executive Director Jan Moller tonight for a Tele-town hall at 5:30 tonight. You can register here.

Number of the Day
43.2% – The proportion of Louisiana adults at a higher risk of serious illness if infected with coronavirus. (Source: Kaiser Family Foundation)