August 7, 2020 — All eyes are on the U.S. Congress. People residing in the United States anxiously await the outcome of the negotiations between political parties mediated by governmental officials from the Trump administration. The current legislative debate is not only a partisan dispute, but is also a reflection of opposing visions on the role that the Nation-State must play in the contexts of the worst economic contraction in the recent history of the country, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. While some believe that the government must provide direct assistance to ensure minimum living conditions for the population, which in turn contributes to economic reactivation; others believe that private initiative is the real economic engine and that the State should abstain from providing to its most vulnerable population. Other concerns discussed include the increase of government spending. However, those same considerations were ignored during the recent tax reform that reduced fiscal income considerably.
The pandemic generated devastating economic consequences that maintain millions of families at risk, suffering food insecurity and fearful of being evicted and becoming homeless. The Cares Act expired on Friday July 31. It was an economic relief package that included measures that aimed at mitigating the impact of the economic recession as a result of the confinement measures to contain the virus. Congress must respond now with a new economic relief package that will define the level of assistance being offered to the population, determining the number of persons who will fall into poverty and those who will contract the virus.
There are interesting examples, such as the one from Stockton, California, that show that granting a basic universal income has positive results, considering that economic safety is essential for social wellbeing and it also generates economic activity. This example questions the ingrained belief that the fear of poverty and the lack of social protection are a necessary engine for economic activity.
Eleven weeks ago, the House of Representatives, with a Democratic majority, voted in favor of the Heroes Act which granted $3 trillions in economic aid, sending it to the Senate, under a Republican majority. After many weeks, the Republican majority in the Senate drafted a counterproposal of $1 trillion. These are the economic relief measures that are being discussed in the context of the Heroes Act:
- Postponement of housing eviction orders. A first 120-days moratorium, approved in March, expired on July 24. It is estimated that between 20 and 30 million persons are at risk of being evicted.
- Subsidies to pay rent for almost $100 billion and mortgage loans for $75 billion, since the eviction moratorium only postpones it, but the obligation to pay the rent or loans accumulate.
- Additional income for workers who lost their jobs and are receiving unemployment benefits. Democrats are requesting the additional amount of $600 per week be maintained. Republicans argue that it is a high amount and that disincentives people to seek and accept jobs. They have proposed lower amounts and even its elimination.
- A one time subsidy of up to $1,200 per person, for everyone, regardless of their immigration status.
- Funds for states and local governments so that they can respond to the pandemic with Covid-19 tests, contact tracing and healthcare treatment, in the amount of $915 billions.
- Food assistance funds. While the House of Representatives approved $60 billion, the Republican proposal in the Senate includes only $250 thousand.
- Hazard payments to acknowledge workers who have risked their health in essential jobs on the front lines during the pandemic, in the amount of $200 billion.
- Extension of interest and payments for federal student loans, which expire on September 30, 2020 until the same date in 2021, and extended it to other federal loans.
- Payments for students who are confronting economic hardship, including foreign students, undocumented students and those who are DACA beneficiaries.
- Work permit extension and the suspension of deportation orders for DACA beneficiaries and TPS holders.
- Review of immigration detention orders and measures to minimize the spread of the virus.
There are other elements also under consideration:
- Protection for the Postal Service, an essential public service, key in ensuring the safe exercise of the right to vote, through mail-in voting.
- Mandate the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to adopt measures to protect workers who speak out about failures on the part of their employers to control the spread of the virus.
- Small business protection (Paycheck Protection Program) by eliminating the requirement that 75% of the loan be used in workers compensation for purposes of loan forgiveness.
The debate in Congress will have a profound impact on the lives of millions of people in the United States and even on their family members who live in other countries and depend on remittances. We must all be watching how Congress acts. They should be putting the people ‘s wellbeing at the center of public action. We must communicate our needs and expectations to our Senators and Representatives in Congress. This is the moment to participate in the public debate. ¡Let’s raise our voices!