A ROADMAP FOR ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY AND MOBILITY
Any semblance of restoring the American Dream must center on the ideals of economic justice. We need to build a country where EVERYone has access to opportunities, and where race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, abilities, and socio-economic status are cherished, protected and supported, not used to exclude, harass and oppress. In an era of rapidly changing technology, increased global competition, and the urgent need to combat the climate crisis, we must create a set of programs that aims squarely at lifting the living standards of those who have been left behind.
Economic mobility is age agnostic and is intrinsically tied to almost, if not every, area of our society – voting rights, transportation, housing, education, immigration, healthcare, civil rights, criminal justice, the environment and so much more. Changes in the economic landscape have threatened the standard of living of so many Americans, because their wages have not kept up with the cost of living. For younger people, we must focus on giving them the affordable, accessible and high-quality education and training they need so that they can compete for better paying jobs. For middle-age workers, especially those who lose their jobs, we must provide them with higher minimum wages and wage supplements and give them the training and skills they need to compete for better jobs. For our older workers, who retire or lose their jobs and are no longer in the labor force, we must provide them with proper Social Security benefits and expanded Medicare. For everyone, we must make sure they have access to high-quality affordable healthcare. We must reward our workers with a set of public programs that provides them dignity and a living income that improves over time.
Prior to COVID-19, our issue in the United States was not lack of employment, as we were near full employment, but rather the quality of the jobs, the wages being paid, and the training and education required for those jobs. With a rapidly evolving economy, workers need better jobs and better job opportunities.
The American Dream and economic mobility have been under attack from all sides during the past 40 years. In Fall River, 20% of residents do not possess automobiles; yet, there is no accessible public transportation connecting those residents to other economic hubs. Our criminal justice system and the War on Drugs has led to the mass incarceration of Black males across this country, destroying their chances for economic mobility as well as their families and communities. Our federal labor laws often exempt protections for agricultural workers, tipped service workers, those with disabilities and domestic workers, which are disproportionately filled by workers of color. Student debt has crippled the economic mobility of an entire generation, and lack of access to language classes has prevented our skilled immigrant population from realizing their true potential. In addition, our housing policy in particular has created vast inequities for Black families that severely limited their access to economic mobility.
There has also been an ever escalating battle to cut marginal tax rates for wealthy individuals and corporate tax rates while simultaneously cutting key services to the most vulnerable, which has only led to a widening of our income inequality gap. The labor market has also changed. With many jobs being shipped overseas, manufacturing cities like Fall River have been left without their economic engines. Automation has also become more common, and workers are in need of new training to keep up with rapidly changing technology. The protections for workers over this time has also been slowly stripped away through a constant attack from right-to-work laws, anti-union legal decisions like Janus, and the growing influence of Wall Street over Congress.
COVID-19 has also further exacerbated many disparities and inequities in this country. If we are going to recover from this tragedy we need to holistically look at all our systems to ensure equity and access to opportunity so ALL Americans can move up the economic ladder.
At the heart of many of these disparities and lack of access to opportunities is the systemic racism that has plagued our country for the last 400 years. We can not address workers needs in this era of rapidly changing technology, increased globalization and the climate crisis, if we do not combat and eradicate the racism that is interconnected, interrelated, and engrained in our society. In order to eliminate racism, we also need to address its underlying causes.
While the 116th Congress is the most diverse Congress in history, it still vastly under-represents the non-white population. 22% of the Members of this Congress are racial or ethnic minorities while the country is 39%. We need more diverse leadership in Congress who understand the diverse perspectives of their community and can relate to EVERYone in their district, to ensure every perspective is accounted for when creating federal law. As the median wealth of a member of Congress is $511,000 – 5 times the median net worth of American Households – Congress needs to reflect the average American and help amplify the voice of the ordinary American, and especially the most vulnerable, and not special interests and the wealthy.
The Citizens United decision also has exacerbated these divides, with the wealthiest individuals, families and corporations injecting over one billion dollars in outside spending per election season. The system is rigged, and Citizens United has allowed for the buying and selling of seats in Congress, instead of the amplifying of the voices of the ordinary American, something unfortunately we are seeing in this race.
For too long Congress has neglected and passed the buck on fixing these issues. I am running for Congress to help lift everyone and to give access to opportunities to ALL Americans. This election is about who gives access to the most voters, not who has access to the deepest wallets.
My plan to create economic opportunity includes:
- An Equitable Recovery from COVID-19 – COVID-19 has exacerbated a lot of the inequities in our society. We can’t let the inequality gap continue to grow under COVID-19. We need to respond to COVID-19 by both containing the virus and supporting and protecting our community, especially the most vulnerable. We can do both while simultaneously lifting everyone’s standard of living. Please read my full COVID-19.
- Invest in Free Equitable Testing and in Contact Tracing – We know our communities of color are contacting COVID-19 at double and triple the rate of other communities.
- Invest in Production and Equitable Distribution of a Vaccine
- Person Protection Equipment (PPE) – Our most vulnerable communities do not have the same access to PPE. We must produce and distribute an adequate and equitable amount of PPE to individuals, companies, organizations and schools to keep everyone safe.
- Standardize Federal Guidelines on Data Collection – We can’t fully understand the disparities and inequalities in who is contacting, getting tested and getting treated for COVID-19 if we do not collect, process and provide the data.
- Provide More Resources to Our Truly Small Businesses, Particularly Women and Minority Owned – Our small businesses are the backbone of our economy and community in MA and were left out of the Paycheck Protection Program.
- Invest in and Supporting Our Childcare Facilities and Childcare Services – In order for families to go back to work, they need safe childcare services and childcare facilities.
- Pass Broader Consumer Protection Laws – We need to stop termination of utility services, halt debt collection, prevent predatory lending, prevent accrual of late fees, prohibit negative credit reporting, and protect 2020 recovery relief from assignment or garnishment.
- Provide Emergency Healthcare Coverage and Unemployment Assistance to EVERYone, Including our Undocumented Immigrants
- Provide Immediate Relief for Student Debt – Place all student loan borrowers in an administrative forbearance and cancel up to $10,000 in outstanding student debt.
- Pass National Temporary Moratorium on Foreclosures and Evictions
- Provide Cash Assistance – We need to provide a monthly cash assistance payment now for at least the next 3 months.
- National Paid Family and Medical Leave – We are the only industrialized country in the world that does not have Paid Family and Medical Leave. This is unacceptable.
- Universal Access to High-Quality Affordable Healthcare – I believe we are on the path to Medicare for All, but we need to first immediately strengthen the ACA, add a public option, allow the federal government to negotiate prescription drug prices under Medicare, and expand Medicare from 65 to 50 years old. We also need to ensure that all residents have access to healthcare, regardless of their immigration status.
- Protect and Expand SNAP Benefits – We must protect and expand federal and state food and medical assistance programs that aim to improve the circumstances of low-income families and individuals. In particular, and especially under COVID-19, we must also work to deliver more food assistance to struggling families, help manage administrative demands, extend certification periods, ease reporting requirements and ensure participants maintain their SNAP benefits. It is imperative that we make it easier for families to continue participating in or apply for SNAP benefits.
- Increase the Minimum Wage – I support a $15 minimum wage for all workers, including tipped service workers, agricultural workers and those with disabilities, and I believe in indexing the minimum wage so we do not need to rely on the political winds of Congress to do the right thing.
- Increase the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – The EITC has been the most successful anti-poverty measure in the history of our country. We need to expand the benefits of this credit so we can further help lower income Americans and their families. We must increase the adjusted income limit to receive EITC by at least 20%, boost the maximum benefits for families with children by at least 20%, and boost the annual maximum annual benefit for individuals without qualifying children.
- Creating a 21st Education System for 21st Century Values and Economy – As our economy continues to evolve, and as the climate crisis worsens, we need to create a high-quality, affordable, accessible, and interconnected education system that covers ALL students, from preschool to higher education and adult education.
We know that the earlier a child reads and writes and the stronger their primary education is, the more likely chance they have to be successful in life. We also need to make higher education more accessible and affordable, as a college degree is a key determinant for economic mobility. We want to make sure that ALL children have an equal chance of being successful in life, and not just a privileged few. We must also not ignore the value of our technical and vocational schools, our community colleges, and our Adult Education programs. Similarly, we need to double down on investments to provide the necessary training and skills to our adult learners and those who wish to enter a trade and provide free language classes to our English Learners so they can pursue their American Dreams. Please read my full education plan.
- Enact universal preschool for all 3, 4, and 5 year olds.
- ExpandEarly Head Start for childcare services for low-income infants, toddlers, pregnant women and their families, homeless children and foster children.
- Invest in devices and high speed broadband so students have access to the tools they need to maintain their learning virtually.
- Increase the number of adequate school counselors, school psychologists and social worker ratios for students.
- Invest in our vocational and technical schools and community colleges, and in their teachers, staff and administration, curriculum and infrastructure.
- Invest in creating and supporting comprehensive strategic public/private partnerships between our vocational and technical schools and private businesses, government and nonprofits.
- Create a universal income based federal loan repayment plan, where we cap federal college loans at a small fixed percentage of the student’s post-graduation income until the loans are fully repaid – likely in the 5-8% range.
- Fight for free college tuition for low income students and highly-subsidized tuition for middle income students to attend four year colleges.
- Fight for free tuition for low and middle income students to attend two year community colleges.
- Ensure that the interest rates of student loans are at the same friendly rates that any bank can borrow under.
- 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.
- Provide free adult vocational education through state grant programs provided by the federal government.
- Invest in more and free English learning classes.
- Economic Justice for All – We must dismantle systemic racism in all our institutions in our society (e.g., healthcare, education, housing, transportation, criminal justice and the environment), in order to cut loose the anchor that is holding down so many of our vulnerable communities from succeeding and thriving. It is immoral, unjust, and cruel. It also hurts our economy. One study by USC found that if the income inequality gap were eliminated, the country could be 14% richer, benefiting everyone. We must not only dismantle systemic racism, but eliminate the underlying causes of racism:
- Education – Education and engagement are the antidotes to eradicating racism in our country. Therefore, we must double down on our investment to teach our youth at the earliest of ages that lies, prejudice and stereotypes can turn into hatred and racism and even worse. We must also truly commit ourselves to better educating our police, teachers, first responders, and political and civic leaders with cultural competency, diversity, and bias training.
- Diverse Leadership – We must elect and select diverse political, religious, education, business and civic leaders who truly understand the diverse perspectives of their communities.
- Voting Rights – We must support and protect the voting rights of all Americans, especially those of historically disenfranchised populations.
- Census – We must encourage and empower all of our communities, especially those historically undercounted, to fill out their Census questionnaire to be accurately counted, to ensure equal representation and to make sure they receive equal access to an appropriate level of federal resources.
- Comprehensive and Compassionate Immigration Reform – The social, cultural, civic, scientific, and technological contributions of our immigrant neighbors have made our society, Commonwealth, and nation more vibrant, stronger and spur our collective growth. But our immigration system is severely broken, particularly for undocumented immigrants. We need comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform that removes barriers to integration, eases transition, and expands opportunities for our immigrant neighbors. We need to stop telling our immigrants that their jobs are essential, but then treat their lives as if they are not essential. Please read my entire Immigration plan at https://bensigelforcongress.com/immigration/
- Create a pathway to citizenship for ALL 12+ million undocumented immigrants.
- Provide permanent status for the recipients of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and immigrant youth known as DREAMers
- Remove and de-stigmatize the label and image that an undocumented immigrant is a criminal.
- Support DACA recipients to ensure they continue to receive all of their protections.
- Eliminate the Public Charge Rule
- Invest heavily in providing a sufficient amount of free language classes for English learners.
- Enable all qualified US residents to apply for their state’s standard driver’s license, regardless of their immigration status.
- Extend in-state tuition and state financial aid to all qualified high school graduates, regardless of immigration status.
- Provide accessible Adult Education classes for all adults, regardless of immigration status, to get the certifications, training and skills they need to fill high-quality jobs.
- Ensure all qualified US residents, regardless of their immigrations status, have access to unemployment assistance and benefits and high-quality, affordable healthcare, including Paid Family & Medical Leave, Medicare, and Medicaid.
- Stop ICE from its continued xenophobic attacks on our immigrant community, intentionally intimidating, threatening, harassing and striking fear into our immigrant communities, preventing them from safely accessing vital medical care, educational institutions, and support from the police and our courts.
- Environmental Justice – Communities of color and low income communities have faced the brunt of the environment crisis for decades. This had led to health disparities that have wreaked havoc on these communities. COVID-19 has been devastating for our black and brown community in large part due to these disparities. If we are to truly combat the climate crisis it must start with combating environmental racism and injustice. We need to center these communities and give them the resources they need to become leaders in a clean energy economy and to live in communities with clean air and water. In particular, any revenue that results from cap and trade programs and/or carbon taxes must overwhelmingly be directed to our most vulnerable communities.
- Smart and Clean Transportation and Infrastructure – We must tie our transportation needs to our housing needs and how we combat the climate crisis. 40% of greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. We need to upgrade and modernize our infrastructure in a clean energy manner. We need to make sure that our most vulnerable communities have affordable access to high speed rail, clean energy buses, bike sharing programs and interconnected walking and biking pathways that are integrated throughout the entire region and not just in one specific city or town. Our goal must be to connect the home with hubs of employment in a clean, efficient and affordable manner. We also must create transit oriented communities with mixed use housing around our hubs of transportation and incentive people to invest in electric and energy efficient vehicles.
- Equitable Housing Policies – We must invest in transit oriented multi-use communities that provide differing housing options, from affordable housing to market rate, to diversify our housing stock and our communities and to create mixed communities that can learn from each other to also help combat racism and bigotry. We must end exclusionary zoning practices and ban the Faircloth Amendment, and instead invest in our federal housing, renovating those houses and building new housing that is clean and green.
This is personal for me, as my dad helped audit affordable housing authorities in such cities as Fall River and Taunton. Redlining, federal housing laws and the federal housing authorities in the past explicitly denied members of the Black community the ability to buy new middle income housing in the suburbs, creating legally enforced segregation. This allowed white families to reap the benefits of the equity from the economic gains of selling these homes at large profits leading to the average Black households wealth being 5% that of their white counterparts today. This redlining has far reaching effects, as these same areas are often underfunded in education and transportation, lack access to capital, and many times Black families do not have the equity or wealth to send their children to college.
- Women’s Rights
- Equal Pay for Equal Work – Every person in this country deserves equal pay for equal work. Women make 81cents on the dollar as their white male counterparts. These disparities grow when you consider that black women only make 62 cents on the dollar, and Latinas make 54 cents to the dollar. This disparity is unacceptable and correcting this immoral disparity will lift many.
- Reproductive Rights – Women must be able to possess the respect, rights and resources to make their own decisions about their own bodies.
- Codify Roe v. Wade into federal law
- Repeal Hyde Amendment
- Fully Fund Title X Family Planning
- Access to Capital – Providing women with the same opportunities for access to capital to start and grow their businesses.
- Support the Rights of ALL Workers to Organize – We must fight to ensure ALL workers in the private, non-profit and public sectors have the ability to organize their workspaces free from intimidation, harassment and retaliation in order to better their wages and benefits. 60% of workers wish to be in a union and yet union membership is at an all time low. Corporations have taken advantage of the NLRB, using stalling tactics, harassment, and retaliation to prevent unionization. Labor unions helped to build the middle class in this country and need our protection and support.
- Pass the PRO Act – Ensure ALL private sector workers have the ability to organize their workspaces and join a union and bargain collectively.
- Pass the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act – Ensuring ALL public sector workers have the ability to organize their workspaces and join a union and bargain collectively.
- Prohibit Right-to-Work Laws
- Expand Social Security Benefits – We must provide more resources for our elderly and those with disabilities to allow them to live with dignity and respect, while also alleviating much of the financial burden on their family members which will allow for their economic mobility.
- Boost Social Security payments by up to 20% for retirees whose adjusted gross income would qualify for EITC, so they receive a larger percentage of their pre-retirement income.
- Increase maximum income taxable by Social Security from $132,900 to more than $175,000 to pay for increased Social Security.
- Support our Disability Community – Our disability community has been neglected for years. They have twice the unemployment rate as non-disabled Americans, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has been underfunded from its passage. We need to create more training programs for adults with disabilities to give them the requisite skills to narrow the employment gap. We also need to properly fund the IDEA and provide accessible public transportation and housing.
- Criminal Justice Reform & Combating the Opioid Crisis and Mental Health Challenges – We must stop criminalizing poverty, mental health and substance abuse disorder. People don’t intentionally choose to be poor, have mental health challenges or become addicted. We must also stop making treatment subordinate to punishment because punishment affects people’s ability to lift their standard of living and does not solve the underlying problems. Education and engagement are the antidotes to all three of these issues.
We have a mass incarceration problem in the US that significantly affects many individuals and communities’ abilities to raise their standard of living and the overall economy. Although the US comprises 5% of the global population, we have 25% of the world’s prison population. In addition, one out of every three Black young men and one of every six Latino young men born today can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Although Blacks represent approximately 12% of the U.S. adult population and Latinos 16%, Blacks are 33% of the sentenced US prison population and Latinos are 23%, while Whites comprise 64% of adults but only 30% of prisoners. Our criminal justice reform must start with repealing mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenses, eliminating cash bail, and legalizing marijuana.
We also must refocus our prison reform efforts on Recidivism, Rehabilitation and Job Training. Let’s ensure that when people complete their prison sentences they have the skills, knowledge and safety net in order to not return to prison, because the US recidivism rate right now is close to 45%. Let’s also ensure that when people complete their prison sentences that have been properly treated for their mental health issues and substance use disorder and that they gain the technical job skills and training necessary to compete for higher paying jobs.
It is similarly important that we also de-stigmatize mental health and substance use disorder, expand access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment for EVERYone, and prevent insurance companies from discriminating against those seeking access to mental health and substance use disorder. We must also increase the number of community based treatment centers and safe injection sites, and holistically support those with mental health or substance use disorder issues with an appropriate safety net including proper housing support and medical transportation.
- Financial Literacy Training – We must increase the number of free in-person and online financial educational and economic security workshops so that everyone gains the knowledge on how they might increase their economic opportunities.
- Expand the Trade Readjustment Assistance (TRA) Program – For those workers who lose their job because of US free trade agreements, we must increase the annual TRA to at least $20,000 for up to two years, increase job search reimbursement to $2,000, and subsidize qualifying health premium for up to 100% during the duration of the job search.