An equitable recovery from covid-19
COVID-19 has devastated families and communities. People are dying and our economy is reeling. COVID-19 has impacted all of our daily lives. It is not just a global physical and mental health care crisis, it is also a global economic crisis. Almost 150,000 Americans have died already and more than 4 million have been confirmed to have contracted COVID-19. Over 20 million Americans have lost jobs and our unemployment rate has reached as high as 14.7%, which is the highest level since the Great Depression. Further, over 5.4 million Americans have lost their health insurance and over 45 million have filed for unemployment benefits.
At a time when America should be leading the world in combating COVID-19, we have seen a lack of international and national coordination, leadership, responsibility and a comprehensive plan from this Administration in responding to the pandemic.
COVID-19 has also further exposed the disparities, inequities and systemic racism in so many of our country’s systems, including in our healthcare, education, criminal justice, housing, food, and transportation systems, and in our environment. We have seen that when even one person is without healthcare access and coverage, not only are they and their families in danger, we are all in danger. We have seen that the Latino, Black, and Native American communities have rates of infection as high as 5 times that of their white counterparts, yet have less access to testing, treatment, and personal protection equipment.
We have seen the trillions of dollars spent to sustain our economy leave out many small businesses, especially minority and women owned small businesses, to fend for themselves and more often than not, have to close. Our education inequality gap is further widening under COVID-19, where children and parents are left to figure out virtually learning on their own, and where many families do not have internet access and children do not have devices to learn remotely. We also see that many in our immigrant population are deemed essential workers, working on the frontlines in healthcare to keep us healthy, in agriculture to keep us fed, in construction to keep us housed, and in our grocery stores and pharmacies to keep us safe, yet are treated as if their lives are not essential.
Our country’s mass incarceration problem, where the US has 25% of the world’s prison population, but only 5% of the world’s population, and where Blacks and Latinos comprise 28% of the adult population but 56% of the prisoner population, is also further exposed under COVID-19. People in jails, prisons and detention centers are at extreme risk of infection of COVID-19, because they are in cramped conditions without the ability to protect themselves. We have also seen that our brave doctors, nurses, medical professionals, grocery store and pharmacy clerks, cleaning crews, postal workers, delivery personnel, public bus and train drivers, and many others risking their lives and the lives of their family to be on the frontlines of this pandemic, yet we are not providing them with the proper personal protection equipment at work to be safe or the help they need at home to do their jobs and to take care of their family properly.
We can and we must do better. While COVID-19 has exposed many of these inequities, it did not create them and we can no longer pretend they do not exist. We need to seize this moment and use this opportunity to reform, transform and support our institutions and change our society if we truly want real lasting change. We must elect more diverse voices in government who understand the diverse perspective of their community. We also need to reemerge as a world leader and reengage our allies throughout the world. COVID-19 has exposed that nationalism and isolationism only hurt us in trying to respond to global pandemics. COVID-19 has been devastating, but it does offer us a window for this change and we need to take advantage now.
Since the start of COVID-19, our campaign has focused on informing, educating, supporting and protecting the community during this difficult time. We were the first campaign to create a COVID-19 Resource Page on our website, translated into Spanish and Portuguese. We also organized 32 different Facebook Live / Zoom conversations with experts and community leaders in the District on topics that informed and supported the community, such as “Protecting the Most Vulnerable During the COVID-19 Pandemic”, “Helping Families Navigate their Financial Lives During the Pandemic”, “Workforce Development and Searching for a Job During COVID-19”, and “Mental Health Challenges & COVID-19: Supporting Those in Need”. You can watch any of the 32 Facebook Live / Zoom conversations at BenSigelforCongress.com under the Join Us and Events tabs.
My plan to combat COVID-19 is split into two parts – containing COVID-19 and supporting and protecting our community, especially our most vulnerable.
Part I: Containing COVID-19
Much is still not known about this virus, and with cases on the rise, it is clear this Administration is incapable of properly handling this pandemic. Congress needs to act immediately. As your next Member of Congress, I will fight for:
- Investment in Free Testing – We must ensure our testing for COVID-19 is free, coordinated and accessible to everyone.
- Investment in Contact Tracing – We must invest in a coordinated and effective plan to contact tracing, including in the collection of the data, in order to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
- Science over Politics – We must listen to our scientists, medical and other experts, and science in order to make rational, informed decisions on how we combat COVID-19, stop its spread, and support and protect our country.
- Universal Access to High-Quality, Affordable Healthcare for ALL, Including Undocumented Immigrants – We know when even one person does not have healthcare coverage it puts them and their families, and all of us in danger.
- Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) – We can’t be the only industrialized country in the world to not have PFML. People should not be choosing between going to work sick and spreading COVID-19 or trying to put food on the table.
- 14 days of fully paid sick leave for quarantining or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, had been advised by a healthcare provider to quarantine, is subject to a quarantine order by work, to care for an individual in quarantine, to care for a child(s) who school or childcare provider is closed or unavailable because of COVID-19.
- Investment in the Production and Distribution of a Vaccine – We need a coordinated approach not only in finding and investing in a vaccine, but also how we distribute that vaccine, starting with our most vulnerable communities.
- Funds for Language Based Resources – We must ensure that all our residents are receiving and understanding the important health and support information they need in order to stay safe and receive their proper benefits. Language should not be a barrier.
- Personal Protection Equipment – We must produce and distribute an adequate amount of personal protection equipment to keep everyone safe, especially our frontline workers, medical professionals, childcare facilities, schools and businesses. We must use the Defense Production Act in order to mass produce the appropriate quantity of equipment we need and provide financial resources for our frontline workers, schools and business to purchase this equipment.
- Standardized Federal Guidelines on Data Collection – We must have a coordinated and standardized plan in collecting and providing data, including racial information, on contact tracing, who is contracting COVID-19 and being tested and treated for COVID-19, deaths, and other information, so we can better understand the disparities and inequalities that exist in order to properly address them.
- Reevaluation of our Immigration Detention and Criminal Justice System – Although many people in jails, prisons and detention centers have been released under COVID-19, many more people are still behind bars and are in extreme risk of infection of COVID-19, because they are in cramped conditions without the ability to protect themselves. We need to safely release nonviolent individuals and provide wrap around services to reintegrate them into society. We must also provide more funding for PPE, testing and healthcare to our prison population and workers.
- Protecting our Seniors – Seniors are the most vulnerable population during this pandemic. Seniors in long term care facilities make up over 60% COVID-19 fatalities. We must provide immediate and consistent funding to ensure our long term care facilities have the resources, PPE, testing and personnel needed to keep our seniors and long-term health professionals safe.
- Safely Reopening Schools – As a father of 4 school-aged children, I would love for schools to reopen so my children can learn from their under-appreciated teachers and socialize with their friends, but I would never want to put them, their friends and family, the teachers and staff or the community as a whole in danger by doing so unless the schools have the proper resources and PPE and scientists and medical experts were advising it could be done in a safe manner.
- Protecting our Childcare Facilities – We must ensure our childcare facilities have the proper resources, training and PPE to protect our children and childcare workers and to survive economically since many were closed during this time and can only open under limited restrictions.
- Protecting our Healthcare Facilities – We must ensure not only that those working in our healthcare facilities have adequate PPE to keep patients and staff safe, but that the facilities themselves have the proper resources to keep their non COVID-19 patients healthy and happy, since many facilities have had to cancel elective and non-urgent medical procedures.
- Protecting our Homeless Shelters – We must ensure our homeless shelters have the proper resources, training and PPE to protect their residents and staff.
Part II: Protecting our Communities, Particularly the Most Vulnerable
We must protect and support our communities, especially our low income and communities of color and our most vulnerable communities, if we are going to create the real lasting change we all want and need. As your next Member of Congress, I will fight for:
- Passing the HEROES Act
- Providing Unemployment Assistance – We must extend the $600 weekly boost for unemployment benefits through 2020. We must also provide unemployment assistance to our undocumented immigrants, many of whom are working as essential workers during this time on the frontlines.
- Investing More Resources into Small Businesses – Many truly small businesses, especially women and minority owned businesses were left out of the Paycheck Protection Program either because they were ineligible, lacked the proper understanding and information, or lacked the connections and access to the right banks and decision makers. Small businesses comprise over 99.5% of businesses in Massachusetts and over 45% of the workforce. They are the backbone to our economy and community in Massachusetts. I will fight to ensure they do not continue to fall through the cracks and receive proper resources so we can get our economy back on track
- National Temporary Moratorium on Foreclosures and Evictions. It is unacceptable that we are 4 months into the pandemic, with surges in cases and we have yet to take this common sense action nationally, like we have in Massachusetts. Through the end of 2020, we must stop all non-essential evictions for residential and small-businesses, halt any notices of eviction or foreclosure to residential tenants and small business, limit courts from taking action on non-essential evictions for residential tenants and small businesses, prohibits landlords from imposing a late fee for non-payment of rent on a residential or a small business tenant, stop all residential forbearance notices, and require landlords to grant a forbearance for up to 180 days upon a request expressing a financial impact from COVID-19.
- Broader Consumer Protections – We must ensure that people are not being taken advantage of during this pandemic:
- Stop termination of utility services
- Halt debt collection
- Prevent predatory lending, including by capping interest rates on new credit
- Prevent accrual of late fees, default interest, and compounding interest on debt and non-sufficient funds fees
- Prohibit negative credit reporting due to the pandemic
- Protect 2020 recovery relief from assignment or garnishment
- Investing in and Supporting Childcare Services, Facilities and Workers – Parents have been overwhelmed for months, homeschooling their children while working from home themselves. If we are to continue to reopen the economy, we need to provide childcare facilities and workers and families of young children who need childcare services support by:
- Providing substantial federal aid to childcare facilities to use for personnel costs, sanitization and cleaning, PPE, training and professional development for health and safety practices, mortgage obligations, rent, utilities and insurance, and other goods and services necessary to resume operations under COVID-19 and maintain viability as a child care provider.
- Appropriating funds specific to providing child care and dependent care for workers.
- Doubling the amount families can contribute to a dependent care Flexible Savings Account
- Extending the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit by making it fully refundable and boosting the max credit rate to 50% and doubling the amount of childcare expenses that can be attributed to each qualifying person.
- Investing in and Supporting our Education System – Every child should have access to high quality public education in a safe environment, regardless of the color of their skin, their abilities, where they live or their socio-economic status. We must
- Provide substantial federal aid to local governments to use for education purposes for personnel costs, sanitization and cleaning, PPE, training and professional development for health and safety practices, and other goods and services necessary to resume school operations under and after COVID-19.
- Enact universal preschool for all 3, 4, and 5 year olds.
- Expanding Early Head Start for childcare services for low-income infants, toddlers, pregnant women and their families, homeless children and foster children, by expanding the income eligibility for those who can participate.
- Provide significant resources to ensure all students and their families have internet and have a device in which they can learn remotely if necessary.
- Providing Relief for Student Debt – Student debt is holding our economy back and has crippled the economic opportunities of an entire generation of students. Student debt is also a racial and economic justice issue, as people of color owe significantly more than others, reinforcing social stratification and segregation. Student debt is further being exacerbated under COVID-19. We must immediately
- Place all student loan borrowers in an administrative forbearance, allowing students to temporary stop making loan payments through the end of 2020.
- Cancel up to $10,000 in outstanding student debt per student.
- Create a universal income based federal loan repayment plan, where federal college loans are capped at a small fixed percentage of the student’s post-graduation income until the loans are fully repaid – likely at the 5-8% range. No payments or interest would be allowed to accrue if a borrower earned $30,000 or less.
- Ensure interest rates of student loans are at the same friendly rates that any bank can borrow under.
- Ensure current student loan borrowers can refinance their debt at that same rate and cap their debt under the universal income based federal loan repayment plan.
- Ensure students are able to discharge the private and federally guaranteed student loans through bankruptcy.
- Create business tax credits for businesses that offer student loan repayment benefit programs.
- Supporting and Protecting Our Undocumented Community – We tell many of the members of our undocumented community that their jobs are essential, but then we don’t treat them like their lives are essential. We must treat EVERYone equally. We must:
- Eliminate the public charge rule
- Provide unemployment assistance
- Provide healthcare coverage and paid family and medical leave
- Allow drivers licenses
- Properly Funding the United States Postal Service – Our USPS delivers a critical public service to our country, employs hundreds of thousands of jobs, and millions depend on their critical service. We must properly fund them.
- Increasing Support to Fight Food Insecurity – We must ensure our food pantries and our communities have enough resources to provide food to our most vulnerable. Even with school being virtual and most summer camps being cancelled, we must provide resources for free school and camp lunches for our most vulnerable children and their families.
We must also protect and expand federal and state food and medical assistance programs that aim to improve the circumstances of low-income families and individuals like SNAP benefits and CHIP. We must work to deliver more food assistance to struggling families, help manage rising and ongoing administrative demands, and ensure participants maintain their benefits. We must also extend certification periods and ease reporting requirements for SNAP benefits. It is imperative that we make it easier for families to continue participating in or apply for SNAP benefits.
- Vigorous and Independent Oversight & Accountability – We must properly monitor the fairness and effectiveness of federal expenditures under COVID-19 and ensure such relief is not being lost to wasted abuse, fraud mismanagement or special interests.
- Cash Assistance – We must provide a cash assistance payment of up to $1,500 per month for the next 3 months (which can be re-evaluated at the end of the 3 month period), for all those individuals who earn less than $125,000 or couples who earn less than $250,000. Families who qualify would also receive an additional $500 per child per month for up to 4 children.