Senate Coronavirus Response Bill Leaves Out Most Vulnerable
Statement of CSPI Policy Director Laura MacCleery
This is no time for half-measures. While the Senate bill provides many billions in needed relief to small business and the health care sector, as well as billions more for expanding coronavirus testing, Congress is failing to protect the most vulnerable Americans.
Despite hours-long lines at food banks, Republican intransigence means that the Senate-passed bill failed to increase the benefits for anti-hunger programs. Disappointingly, the bill did not include the 15 percent boost to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or “food stamps”) supported by CSPI, nor did it include additional funds for state and local health departments. Congress must increase the minimum benefit per month from $16 to $30, which would significantly help seniors. SNAP benefits were temporarily increased during the Great Recession, and evidence shows the program’s effectiveness in reducing poverty and providing an economic stimulus.
And despite the deaths and illnesses of municipal workers, grocery store employees, bus drivers and slaughterhouse workers all over the country, the bill failed to provide paid sick leave or family and medical leave. An overwhelming majority of Americans want grocery store workers to wear masks and have access to paid sick leave, according to a national poll commissioned by CSPI.
Regardless of the continued threat to essential workers such as school food personnel, to whom we all owe such a debt, the bill also omitted additional funding for personal protective equipment. The bill also failed to require the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help distribute food directly to households. School staff are bagging and distributing thousands of meals every day, without PPE. Many food service staff fear for their safety, and some feeding sites have closed due to illness from coronavirus. In addition, future measures should require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard requiring protections for health care and other essential workers.
Unfortunately, lawmakers have more to do to ensure that public health and the needs of the most vulnerable Americans come first. This is a test of who we are as a nation: Congress simply must provide necessary supports for workers and low-income families in future relief packages.