By Mary Babic
Cross-posted from Oxfam America’s “Politics of Poverty” series
The swift and devastating spread of the coronavirus in the US is dealing a staggering blow to our public health systems and our economy. It is also exposing how working families have been struggling for decades. As Americans grasp the enormous and long-term impact, they support policies that will deliver to those most affected and pave the road to an equitable recovery.
The groundswell is crystal clear: A new Oxfam-Data for Progress national poll, conducted days ago, indicates overwhelming support (greater than 70 percent) for measures that directly help working people, including: paid sick leave for all workers, emergency funding for food supplies for those affected by the crisis, free testing for the virus, and moratoriums on evictions, foreclosures, and utility shutoffs.
Even “very conservative” voters indicate majority support for emergency cash payments, waiving copays for coronavirus treatment, and increasing federal funding for Medicaid. On the flip side, support drops noticeably for policies that prop up large businesses.
Support extends across all divides
Stunningly, support for these measures cuts across ideological, racial, and age divides. Simply put, voters recognize that this is a moment of great peril. As the clock ticks and the numbers rise, the pandemic is quickly revealing how many working families were already struggling to stay afloat, living paycheck to paycheck.
Americans want to prevent them from falling into bankruptcy, homelessness, and hunger. Women indicate stronger support for actions to protect working people. This may reflect the fact that women face disproportionate hardships during crises. They are the primary caregivers of children, the ill or disabled, and the elderly, and being confined in the home increases care work and stress. In addition, women are currently on the front lines as nurses, doctors, personal aides, and cleaners. Finally, we know from long experience that domestic violence spikes in times like these.
Among the overall insights: 86 percent support free access to coronavirus testing, vaccination, and care for every American. Eighty-six percent support strengthening unemployment assistance (especially for workers who depend on tips, gig workers, domestic workers and independent contractors). Eighty-five percent support an immediate moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, and utility shut offs. Just 54 percent support low–interest government loans for oil and gas companies.
Americans are saying it loud and clear: We cannot sit back and watch as the pandemic devastates the most vulnerable and flattens our economy. It’s time for proactive and effective government action. While Congress recently passed legislation that mandated paid sick leave, it excludes 80 percent of workers. We must do better.
An effective policy agenda
If our response is left to the market, COVID-19’s impacts will cascade through our economy, further deepening poverty, gender, racial and wealth disparities.
It is not time for half-measures and incremental tweaks to an economic system already fragile and rigged in favor of the powerful. Instead, we need decisive, audacious actions to prevent long-lasting and grave economic consequences for everyone—especially for those pushed out of progress for decades.
As Congress feverishly negotiates its third economic rescue package, Oxfam has developed a full economic policy agenda. Here are some highlights:
Protect working people being hit the hardest
Payroll tax cuts are a farce: ineffective, regressive and potentially bankrupting Social Security. Instead, Congress should deliver:
- Cash payments to all individuals.
- Recurring boosts to federal anti-poverty programs.
- Paid sick and family leave to all.
- Increased unemployment insurance benefits.
- Fiscal relief to states, counties, and cities that will bear the brunt of this crisis.
- Investments in emergency shelters for women facing domestic violence at home.
No blank checks to big business, but lifeline support to smaller companies and workers
An economic triage rescue plan would prioritize support to small businesses on the edge, not the country’s most powerful multinational companies flush with cash.
- This is not a time for bailouts, or corporate tax cuts, for big business.
- This is not a time to re-write tax policy to the benefit of the wealthy (which endangers resources we will need in the long term).
Moreover, we agree that assistance to corporations should be conditioned on forbidding recipients from: reducing payrolls; violating existing collective bargaining agreements; demanding concessions from workers; outsourcing; increasing workloads; and, companies must agree to a $15 minimum wage once the crisis has passed.
Any sectoral assistance should be explicitly time-limited and subject to certain conditions, including and especially prohibiting share buybacks; freezing executive bonuses; requiring board approval for political lobbying expenditures; and country-by-country tax reporting.
No free lunch to certain sectors
Any assistance to corporations should not exacerbate existing inequalities, worsen public health outcomes, or impede the necessary global transition to a zero-carbon economy. In particular, sector-specific benefits for oil and gas producers, who’ve long-received subsidies and tax breaks, should not be considered at this time.
Affordable testing, treatment, and vaccination will be essential for economic recovery. Any assistance or incentives for the pharmaceutical sector must ensure that breakthroughs in treatment and vaccines become a global public good, accessible and affordable to everyone.
Mary Babic is the Senior Communications Officer for the US Regional Office at Oxfam America.