*This story originally appeared on the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) website. It has been republished with permission.*
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the deep gaps in our economic and social infrastructure that have resulted from decades of underinvestment and policy choices that failed to center the needs of women, people of color and families with low and moderate incomes.
It is clear that this public health crisis will exacerbate inequality along gender, racial and economic lines—since low and moderate income women and their families will be particularly vulnerable to devastating health and economic effects from a crisis of this magnitude.
To mitigate the vast impact of this public health crisis and stabilize our economy writ large, it is critically important to make significant and comprehensive public investments that will address the cumulative and interconnected needs of women and families.
In particular, NWLC has four major priorities for the next package of proposals responding to COVID-19:
Protect frontline workers—including healthcare, child care and other workers whose work is critical to our public health—many of whom are women.
- Expand the emergency paid sick time and family and medical leave protections to protect all working people by eliminating the exemption for large employers and ensuring that nonprofits can be reimbursed for emergency benefits—and enact forward-looking provisions to ensure that these critical benefits are available to everyone outside of the circumstances of a public health emergency.
- Reauthorize community health centers and provide funding to ensure comprehensive health care, including reproductive health care, for struggling workers. In addition, provide funding to meet the health needs of the incarcerated and individuals who are detained through the immigration system and undo Trump Administration changes to the ACA that undermine access to comprehensive coverage.
- Require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to ensure that healthcare workers and other frontline workers are protected from the spread of COVID-19.
- Design paid leave, housing assistance, grants for small businesses and other supports so that all child care providers—whether centers, family child care homes, or family, friend and neighbor care providers—can participate and take advantage of the benefits.
- Extend filing deadlines for labor and employment and civil rights charges and complaints, so that workers and others who have experienced violations of their civil rights do not lose those rights because of the current emergency.
Get income to families now to mitigate widespread economic hardship and stabilize the economy.
As consensus builds around a substantial cash payment to families, we ask lawmakers to ensure that there are mechanisms to reach low- and moderate-income people with the full amount.
This could include policies to:
- Strengthen unemployment insurance to reach more workers and adopt stronger triggers so that the program can automatically respond to increased hardship.
- Adopt a Jobseeker’s Allowance that provides cash income to workers not eligible for unemployment insurance—such as graduating students entering the job market, returning caregivers, independent contractors and others.
- Work with states to provide cash payments on Electronic Benefit Cards to reach people who cannot access cash assistance through other means.
- Make the Child Tax Credit fully refundable as a down payment on a child allowance so that families can meet children’s needs regardless of their employment status.
Stabilize state governments and ensure they have the tools to provide health coverage, continue essential services and prevent layoffs.
- Increase Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) to ensure states’ capacity to provide widespread testing for COVID-19 and expedited Medicaid enrollment for eligible individuals.
- Provide robust, flexible emergency funding to states to meet the emerging needs of families, providers and educators in the child care sector—including (but not limited to) paying providers when they are required to be closed; eliminating copayments or tuition for families without penalizing providers; providing substitutes for educators; creating new temporary facilities to serve children of frontline workers; helping state and local agencies track child care closures and capacity; and training and medical supports to enhance health and safety practices.
- Require states to provide a special open-enrollment period for state health insurance programs, due to reduction of income; and offer a state stabilization fund to allow states to make further investments in facilitating remote learning for students, including by providing electronic devices and broadband access, helping victims of domestic violence, preventing child abuse and neglect, delivering meals and more.
Do no harm.
There are a number of actions Congress should take to immediately stop human suffering, prioritize public health and limit economic damage.
These steps include:
- Issue a nationwide halt to utility shutoffs and evictions to ensure people do not experience homelessness because of the economic havoc, and pass the bipartisan “Eviction Crisis Act” to help ensure families can access emergency help.
- Protect people experiencing homelessness—who are more likely to be seniors, LGBTQ people with health disparities or otherwise have health conditions that pose a deadlier risk—by increasing funding for the McKinney-Vento homeless assistance program and Disaster Housing Assistance Program housing vouchers and ensuring other supports for homeless service providers.
- Provide borrowers with student debt the option to go into forbearance or defer payment on student loans without penalty during this emergency period.
- At a time when people’s reproductive health care needs will likely increase during this time of crisis, federal and state governments should be eliminating barriers to care, including the Hyde Amendment.
For decades, critically important public programs and structures have been starved of funding, and efforts to ensure that women have adequate income, health care, worker protections, support for caregivers, and nutrition and housing assistance have been met with relentless resistance. Those efforts have placed women and their families at unconscionable risk from the COVID-19 crisis.
We urge lawmakers to make the large-scale and comprehensive public investments to stave off that risk, and to meet the needs of women and families. Doing so will not just prevent deep financial hardship, but will protect public health and help mitigate a potential recession that will affect all of us.
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