A few weeks ago, we called for a new New Deal—meaning new ideas and innovative programs in the face of the global coronavirus pandemic, especially for women.
Though the Trump administration was slow to acknowledge the economic impact of the pandemic, in March Congress stepped up and passed the first financial aid bill—the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Though far from the systemic changes that will be needed in a post-corona economy, the CARES Act gave much-needed temporary relief to families suffering from massive layoffs that outstripped the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Since it’s now a fact of life that women have suffered more unemployment than men in the financial meltdown, it was gratifying to see provisions particularly important to women. These included a sizable four-month expansion of unemployment benefits, and significant direct payments to low- and middle-income families ($1,200 for most adults and $500 for children under age 17).
On the downside, millions of other low-income households (disproportionately female-headed) normally exempt from filing tax returns were now required to file to receive payments, and certain immigrant families—including many with children who are U.S. citizens—were ineligible.
Even still, the unemployment rate remains astronomical. While data released from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics cited that 2.5 million jobs were added to the market in May—an albeit small but seemingly hopeful uptick compared to April—the Bureau later acknowledged that nearly 4.9 million people were falsely counted as employed. Had the mistake been remedied, April’s unemployment rate would have been closer to 19.5 percent—rather than the still record-breaking 14.7 percent figure released—and May’s closer to 16.1 percent.
Meanwhile, the country has passed the grim milestone of 116,000 COVID-19 deaths and set yet another new record—more than 20,000 new cases in one day. Some experts predict a second spike of corona with attendant closings and layoffs, as states allow more to open even in the face of a rising death toll and no letup in new cases.
More Help Is Needed
With the CARES Act sunsetting in July, it’s all too obvious more help is needed. Led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrats in the House have already pushed through a new bill to help ease the pain. It’s called the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which both builds on the CARES Act and corrects some flaws.
HEROES is so named because it establishes a $200 billion “Heroes’ Fund” to provide hazard pay to some essential workers. It would provide a retroactive $13 per hour pay premium on top of regular pay for “all hours worked in essential industries through the end of 2020″—up to $25,000 for those workers earning less than $200,000 per year, and up to $5,000 for workers earning more.
This disproportionately benefits women, since one in three jobs held by women are deemed essential.
In addition to another round of stimulus checks, HEROES improvements include coverage of adult dependents (including many college students), as well as gig workers, independent contractors, part-time workers and the self-employed through March 2021. Significantly, immigrants with taxpayer identification numbers (TINs) would also be eligible for a payment this time around.
HEROES extends the CARES Act suspension of federal student loan interest and payments through September 2021. An even bolder provision cancels up to $10,000 for some federal and private loan holders. There’s also help for homeowners ($75 billion to prevent mortgage defaults and foreclosures), and around $100 billion in assistance to renters.
But the big rock in the road to HEROES assistance is the U.S. Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is in no hurry. He’s called the bill “crazy policy,” and wants to hit the pause button on more relief.
“We’re taking a careful look at a fourth and final bill,” he said. “You could anticipate the decision being made on whether to go forward in about a month. And it will be narrowly crafted, designed to help us where we are a month from now, not where we were three months ago.”
The White House quickly backed McConnell by issuing a veto threat if HEROES does squeak through the Senate.
And that Republican timeline just keeps on slipping: Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told Politico last week to realistically expect “end of July” for movement on HEROES.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer sent a letter on Thursday urging McConnell and Trump to move quickly to pass the bill, citing that a delay could disproportionately hurt African Americans.
“Without immediate and comprehensive action by Republicans on additional COVID-19 legislation, communities of color and millions of working Americans are going to needlessly suffer and our efforts to rebuild and foster an equitable recovery of the American economy will also fall woefully short,” Schumer wrote.
What Do We Really Need Going Forward?
HEROES is definitely needed in the short term (months or a couple of years) but fundamentally, it’s just bigger Band-Aid.
This is not only the 100th anniversary of women winning the vote, but an election year. Women, now the majority of the population as well as the electorate, have an unprecedented opportunity to honor the suffragists by making our voices heard and holding candidates of all persuasions accountable.
In coming columns, we’ll explore the changes women need in the areas of health care, equal pay, child care, taxes, violence protection, LGBTQ rights and more. Not short-term solutions but systemic change—not only to boost the economy but to permanently improve the lives of our citizens, especially those that happen to be female.