The public health and economic crises we’re experiencing are closely related. They reveal in stark terms the dangerous mythology of trickle-down self-sufficiency and the need for policies that respond to the real needs of people who are or will soon be affected.
But Trump doesn’t seem to understand that. Before agreeing to an actual coronavirus relief bill, his administration was considering more corporate tax cuts, tax cuts targeted to the airlines and hospitality industries, and a temporary payroll tax cut.
But tax cuts will be useless. They’ll be too slow to stimulate the economy, and won’t reach households and consumers who should be the real targets. And they’ll reward the rich, who don’t spend much of their additional dollars, without getting money into the hands of the poor and middle-class, who do.
Thankfully, Congress has moved forward on some of the most urgent priorities like free coronavirus testing, strengthening unemployment insurance and food security programs. But it doesn’t go far enough.
Instead, Congress must immediately provide an emergency $500 billion to help all Americans protect themselves and their families, and keep the economy going.
The money should be used for:
Coronavirus testing and treatment. Diagnostic tests should be mandatory and universal, and free. And everyone with the virus should have access to treatment and to any future vaccines, regardless of ability to pay.
Guaranteed paid sick leave for ALL employees. The current relief bill does cover paid sick leave for some but has huge carve-outs, exempting all companies with over 500 employees and some small businesses under 50 employees. That exclusion could affect up to 20 million Americans. Without guaranteed paid sick leave and family leave, workers who are sick will not remain home and will end up exposing others.
Extended unemployment insurance. Without it, large numbers of Americans will be furloughed or laid off without adequate income to support themselves and their families. As it is, unemployment insurance reaches a measly 27 percent of the unemployed.
Extended Medicaid. No one should avoid seeing a doctor because of fears about out-of-control medical bills. Right now, 28 million Americans have no health insurance, and countless more are reluctant to see a doctor because of large deductions or co-payments. Especially in a health emergency, health care should be available to all regardless of ability to pay.
Immediate one-time payments of $1,500 to every adult and $500 per child, renewable if necessary. Some consumers might spend the money right away to meet rent if they lose their regular paycheck. Others might have stronger balance sheets and spend the money at whatever uncertain date the virus is contained.
Suspension of the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule that enables federal officials to deny green cards to immigrants who use social safety net programs. Programs like, Medicaid, Food Stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and Women Infants and Children are more important than ever.
For the same reason, testing and treatment should be available to undocumented immigrants, without fear of deportation.
Trickle-down economics and trickle-down public health are deeply flawed. Corporate tax cuts won’t save us. The coronavirus doesn’t distinguish between rich and poor. We are in this imminent health and economic emergency together, and our own health and wellbeing are dependent on the health and wellbeing of everyone else.
Each of us is only as healthy as the least-healthy among us.
This post originally appeared at RobertReich.org.
Robert B. Reich is the chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley and former secretary of labor under the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the 10 most effective Cabinet secretaries of the 20th century. He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. His film, Inequality for All, was released in 2013. Follow him on Twitter: @RBReich.