In this unprecedented moment in American history, we need an unprecedented legislative response. President Trump is incapable of providing leadership, and instead continues to mislead the public and act out of political self-interest. So it is Congress that must lead, and it must do so now.
With anxiety growing, everyone in our country needs to know that, in the midst of this horrific pandemic and economic meltdown, their government is doing everything possible to keep them healthy and financially secure.
In other words, we need to build upon and expand the recent stimulus package with new and bolder emergency legislation which must be passed as soon as possible. Here are a few core principles that must be included in that legislation.
First, Congress must explicitly authorize that the Defense Production Act is fully utilized to demand that the private sector start delivering the equipment and products that our medical personnel desperately need in order to treat their patients. We cannot rely on Trump to do it.
Recent reporting has revealed that the Trump administration did not start ordering crucial equipment like masks until March. It is beyond comprehension that, in the wealthiest nation on Earth, doctors and nurses throughout the country are putting their lives on the line because they lack an adequate supply of surgical masks, gloves and gowns. We must also produce the ventilators as well as the various kinds of testing kits that we need now and will need in the future, as well as the dwindling supply of certain prescription drugs that are essential to treat the virus. States and hospitals should not have to compete against each other. The federal government must take the lead in coordinating efforts.
Now more than any point in recent history, we are in this together. We must act with love, compassion and urgency
Further, during this crisis, every American must be able to receive all of the healthcare they need regardless of income. Before the pandemic, 87 million people were uninsured or underinsured. That number is rapidly escalating as millions of workers are not only losing their jobs but are also losing their employer-based health insurance.
The cost of hospital treatment for the coronavirus amounts to tens of thousands of dollars. Tragically, we have already seen people who have delayed treatment due to concerns about cost. In this pandemic, lack of insurance will lead to more deaths and more Covid-19 transmissions.
As long as this pandemic continues, 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 crisis.
Obviously, Congress must not only address the pandemic crisis, it must also act with a fierce sense of urgency to effectively deal with the economic crisis as well.
In the last two weeks, a record-breaking 10 million people filed unemployment claims – more than during the entire 2008 Great Recession. Frighteningly, the St Louis Federal Reserve projects that 47 million more people may become unemployed by the end of June, with unemployment reaching 32%. While such estimates may be a worst-case scenario, the reality of the pandemic has taught us that worst-case scenarios are what we must plan for. For the sake of working families all over this country, we must be prepared for all contingencies.
We cannot wait before taking the bold action that is necessary. In my view, it makes a lot more sense to prevent the collapse of our economy than figuring out how we put it back together after it crumbles. Simply stated, that means that every worker must keep receiving his or her paycheck and benefits during the crisis. In the recent emergency relief bill, Congress appropriated over $25bn in grants to the airline companies so that 2 million workers in that industry will continue to receive their full paycheck and benefits through 30 September. And that is exactly what we must do for every worker in America. This is not a radical idea. It is similar to what France, Norway, Denmark, the UK and other countries are doing.
Further, as quickly as possible, we must get money into the hands of people by immediately providing a $2,000 monthly emergency payment to every person in the country until the crisis has passed.
In addition, we must guarantee paid medical and sick leave to all workers. It has been estimated that only 12% of workers in businesses that are likely to stay open during this crisis are receiving paid sick leave benefits as a result of the second coronavirus relief package. We have got to increase this figure to 100%.
Moreover, workers who are on the frontlines of this crisis including those who work in grocery stores, warehouses, paramedics, nurses, pharmacies, domestic workers, postal workers, farm workers, public transit, truck drivers and janitors must receive $500 a week hazard pay, childcare and a safe and secure workplace.
Finally, we must put an immediate moratorium on evictions, foreclosures and utility shut-offs, and suspend payments on rent and mortgage loans for primary residences during this crisis.
This is a frightening and devastating time for our country, and the world. Never before in our lifetimes have we had to deal with both a public health pandemic and an economic meltdown.
The American people deserve and require leadership from Washington that acts aggressively, puts working people first, and provides peace-of-mind to the most vulnerable people in our country. Now more than any point in recent history, we are in this together. We must act with love, compassion and urgency.
Historians will look back at this time to see how we dealt with this unprecedented crisis. I hope they will observe that we responded with the courage and boldness that the moment required.
Bernie Sanders is US senator from Vermont and a former Democratic presidential candidate.