We need a more robust COVID-19 response

The Congress just passed and the President signed into law a $2.2 trillion COVID-19 response bill that is designed to extend funding for healthcare providers and provide economic aid to families. The immediate need has been increasing exponentially each day, so it was critical that federal assistance be made available as rapidly as possible. The bill that passed included a massive expansion of unemployment insurance and a one-time payment of $1,200 for singles and $2,400 for married couples paired with an additional $500 per child as a means of supporting workers and families. Large corporations will receive $500 billion with almost no strings attached and $4 trillion in zero-interest loans while small businesses will receive $357 billion in loans that do not have to be paid back provided workers are retained.

It should surprise no one that members of Congress, who are largely supported by corporate PACs, wrote a bill that gives far more to big corporations than ordinary workers. For most Americans, the cost of their monthly bills (rent, utilities, student loan payments, etc.) exceed $1,200 let alone the cost of groceries and prescription drugs. I am calling on the Congress to institute mobile voting and pass a new COVID-19 package that truly meets the needs of this crisis. We need a national Stay At Home order including all non-essential workers and a 6-month period in which the government commits to cover the cost of payrolls for workers staying at home.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, if the government wrote paychecks for the entire American workforce, which had a median income of $64,000 in 2019, six months would cost $5 trillion. If you include a phase out for incomes over $400,000 and exclude essential workers whose employers have positive cash flow, the price drops. This may seem like a large number, but in World War II, the US ran budget deficits more than five times our current size as a percentage of the economy. We came out of World War II and built the durable middle class in the history of the world with incomes rising faster for the poor and working class than at the top. There’s been a myth that has captured both parties that the federal government cannot spend more money than it brings in through taxation. This is ahistorical nonsense. Public investment creates economic growth whether that be through investments in childcare, education, infrastructure, or research & development. Furthermore, with interest rates at record lows, we have a wide dearth of fiscal space to finance the programs we desperately need before we hit inflation. Should policymakers insist on raising revenue to finance this spending so as to preemptively strike against potential inflation, I would direct them to the top 1% who hold over $25 trillion in wealth with assets exceeding those of the bottom 80%. A one-time 20% wealth tax paired with a fully-funded Internal Revenue Service would raise enough revenue to entirely finance the program.

Without reform to our COVID-19 response, tens of millions of Americans will be out of work and detached from their employer-provided health insurance. Laid off workers will apply for COBRA, the temporary health insurance plan for Americans between jobs and face hefty premiums, co-payments, and deductibles if they’re lucky enough to qualify. Our unemployment insurance system will be overwhelmed with a scale of filings its entirely unprepared for resulting in extended delays for Americans to receive their benefits. The holes in this system will lead to a spike in evictions, destroyed credit, and bankruptcies. We need a course correction, and we need it now. Congress should reconvene and choose to keep workers on their companies’ payrolls.



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Jesse Rubens

Jesse Rubens


Progressive Organizer, Policy Writer, Political Scientist