We Need Some Real Stimulus

Families waiting in their cars for food assistance.
Hundreds of families wait in their vehicles for food assistance in Pennsylvania amidst the coronavirus (source).

As the social and economic effects of COVID-19 continue to devastate the middle and working classes, Congress has only, thus far, passed a few measures that have actually provided some relief to the American people, namely an increase to unemployment compensation and a one-time, means-tested $1,200 stimulus check.

Unfortunately, these measures are simply not enough to address the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic.

It should be no surprise to anyone by now that millions of people have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus. This has, of course, cut off essential income for workers, and in a society where 40 percent of the population cannot pay for a $400 emergency, the ramifications are startling. This means that millions of Americans who were already living one paycheck away from homelessness have gone several weeks without any pay and are facing eviction and foreclosure.

Beyond income, the coronavirus has clearly demonstrated the follies of our failed healthcare system, specifically its heavy reliance on private insurance companies. One of the biggest lies perpetrated by neo-liberal Democrats and right-wing Republicans regarding healthcare is that the American people love their health insurance and, therefore, do not want universal healthcare. Of course, wealthy politicians who are not attuned to the needs of their constituents fail to realize that people, by and large, despise their insurance, even if they simultaneously fear losing it.

Not only are people losing their jobs and wages, but they are also losing the insurance tied to their jobs, which would normally be devastating on its own, but it is especially problematic due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This means that, if they are experiencing coronavirus symptoms, many will decide that life-saving treatment is not worth putting their families in life-long debt and, therefore, decide to stay home.

This is all while the bulk of the last coronavirus relief package went disproportionately to large corporations who control the very politicians that wrote them these blank checks.

It is simply unfathomable that, in the “richest nation in the world”, our policymakers are able to come to a quick consensus on bailing out the airline industry, and other large businesses, while giving the American people pennies on the dollar.

The House of Representatives is, apparently, close to a deal on the fourth relief package. In order to actually address the needs of the American people, this bill should contain the following:

  • A $2,000 per month stimulus check
  • Universal healthcare
  • Rent and mortgage freezes
  • Student loan debt forgiveness

First and foremost, the monthly stimulus checks would ensure that the American people are able to survive without the fear of depleting their bank accounts and going hungry, and for those who are lucky enough to have retained their jobs, their stimulus checks would be a good income supplement, especially if their hours have been reduced, or help encourage spending, which would provide needed economic stimulus, and saving, which would help families establish a true rainy day fund.

What about the wealthy, though? Should they get stimulus checks as well? Shouldn’t we exclude them from the stimulus? I would much rather have the stimulus checks go out ASAP then having to worry about politicians arguing over means testing, so swift relief checks to all should take precedence over our concerns for giving the wealthy a few thousand bucks a month. Moreover, as we saw with the $1,200 stimulus checks, because they were tied to federal tax returns for the purpose of determining income limits, means testing provided additional hurdles that made the process more complicated than it needed to be, especially for those who do not have tax return filing requirements, and recent tax returns do not necessarily reflect taxpayers’ current income. The $1,200 checks were also not granted to those claimed as dependents, which is especially troublesome for college students and those who have since begun providing their own financial support.

We should just send checks to everyone, no questions asked. If Congress wants to tax new stimulus funds later, they could just simply require those who make a certain amount of money to add the relief to their 2020 taxable income, instead of treating the relief as a 2020 refundable credit. It is as simple as that.

Next, the American people need universal healthcare now. The pandemic only further proves that healthcare is inaccessible to millions of Americans, including those who have insurance but can’t afford their deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance payments. It is a national disgrace that we remain one of the only industrialized countries to not offer healthcare as a basic human right, and our for-profit insurance system has made us uniquely unprepared to tackle the coronavirus and ensure that everyone receives the care that they need.

Corporate Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have, thus far, advocated not for universal healthcare, but, rather, expanded funding for COBRA, a program that allows former employees to continue receiving insurance, albeit for higher premiums. This program is a joke, as it requires laid off Americans to, somehow, find the funds to pay substantially more for insurance than what they were paying for their employer-provided insurance while not receiving any wage income. Of course, it shouldn’t be a surprise that politicians, who are compromised by health insurance lobbyists, are pushing for subsidizing health insurance companies to help keep COBRA plans afloat instead of simply expanding Medicare to every American.

As this current pandemic further demonstrates, insurance should not be tied to employment, and, in fact, health insurance should not exist at all. Our nation has the capacity to pay for healthcare for everyone, and especially in the times that we are living in, Congress should include universal healthcare as a central component of the next stimulus package.

Next, Congress should implement mandatory rent and mortgage freezes. To be frank, I have little sympathy for landlords who make a living simply by owning a building that others need to live in to survive, especially the landlords who charge outrageously high rents, well above the rate of inflation, in order to make big profits.

I also don’t feel sorry for the banks that benefit substantially from their ludicrous financial dealings; if banks can sell toxic assets, push terrible mortgage deals on unsuspecting customers, create bank accounts without their customers’ consent, and make risky financial decisions that allow them to win big if they’re successful or reap the benefits of corporate socialism through a bailout if they lose, then they can afford to provide homeowners with a few months of mortgage relief.

Finally, all student loans should be forgiven. As someone with student loan debt, I can personally attest to the damage that student loans have collectively caused to the millennial generation, as well as others who had to make the disastrous decision to either seek a higher education but be saddled with unsustainable debt or don’t go to college and have less professional opportunities as a result. Student loans have delayed major life events for young people, including marriages, car purchases, homeownership, and having children, and it is simply untenable that seeking a higher education comes with a lifetime of debt and outrageous interest rates that, for many of us, put us further and further behind, even with regular monthly payments.

I was pleasantly surprised when President Trump issued an executive order to freeze student loan payments and accompanying interest, but our policymakers must take the additional step and discharge all of our loans, especially because the economic impacts of COVID-19 will be felt long after the freeze expires in less than six months. As the trillions of dollars worth of bailouts for the large corporations have demonstrated, we can easily afford this bold measure. It only requires an ounce of political will from our elected leaders.

Will corporatist, neo-liberal Democrats and their reactionary right-wing Republican colleagues craft bold legislation that actually addresses the needs of the American people during these unprecedented times, or will they buckle to the wealthy and put together a milquetoast package that feeds us breadcrumbs while offering large corporations a feast of handouts that they don’t actually need? Will Democrats, in particular, go beyond proposals aimed at subsidizing health insurance companies and eliminating the SALT cap for the wealthy, or will they actually push for measures that provide us with real financial stability?

As we approach the 2020 general election, the American people are carefully scrutinizing their elected leaders during these unprecedented times to determine if they deserve to be sent back to Washington. If our congresspeople and senators want to improve the lives of their constituents, and keep their own jobs come November, they will do the right thing and include these progressives measures in the next coronavirus stimulus package.

I am a progressive union activist who believes in fighting for the greater good.

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