While Americans Struggle to Survive, Senate Leadership Ignores the Pandemic — and the Need for Relief
By Alexis McGill Johnson | Aug. 10, 2020, 8 a.m.
The delay in action from Senate Republican leadership is inexcusable.
For me and everyone I know, this year has been a reckoning. The COVID-19 pandemic and the long-overdue movement for racial justice have changed everything. In some ways, this moment has revealed what can be possible: In the protest movements across the country, people are standing in their unapologetic selves, demanding to be heard. But in other ways, this moment has exposed deep, systemic problems that the government could work to solve. But it hasn't. To accept this moment as “the new normal” is not only unsustainable, it's unconscionable. Families cannot afford political games. Right now, they’re thinking about staying safe and healthy. They’re demanding justice, navigating health care and child care in the midst of a pandemic, and keeping food on the table while out of work. That’s what our leaders should be focused on too.
But it’s not what the Senate focused on. They stalled for more than two months — refusing to take up the fourth COVID-19 relief bill that health care champions in the House of Representatives passed, which would provide real relief to the families who need it. Following the House vote in May, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell even said he hadn’t "yet felt the urgency of acting immediately." Now, with unemployment benefits and an eviction moratorium for millions about to lapse and with 5.4 million people having lost their health insurance, Sen. McConnell has offered his own scant effort at a new relief bill — one that fails in so many ways to meet the needs of people across the country.
The Senate Leader’s Proposal:
shrinks the enhanced unemployment benefits that have sustained millions of households in which people have lost jobs during the pandemic;
limits most of its education funding to schools that physically reopen, even though surging outbreaks across the country have forced systems to remain closed to protect students, teachers, and staff;
provides no additional Medicaid funding or access to health coverage for people who have lost their health insurance — and even counts the reduced unemployment assistance provided by the bill as income, which could cause some of its recipients to lose access to Medicaid;
includes neither funding for SNAP (formerly called ‘food stamps’), to aid families who face food insecurity, nor continued aid to families whose children have lost access to free or subsidized meals at schools;
offers no additional support to state and local governments on the front lines of the public health and economic crises, risking the jobs and safety of first responders, educators, and other workers;
fails to help people vote safely and securely by providing funds for vote by mail, expanded early voting, expanded voter registration options, safe polling location adjustments, and voter education; and
denies the global nature of this pandemic, ignoring critical health needs around the world and international efforts to coordinate the response to the crisis.
Image credit: Flickr user dmbosstone
Instead, the Senate bill proposes to spend money in ways that have nothing to do with the pandemic — including new funding for immigration enforcement, a tax writeoff for business lunches, a new FBI headquarters building, and fighter jets.
This is not what people need. We need legislation that supports women, Black and Latinx communities, LGBTQ+ people, people with low incomes, immigrants, and families. There’s no time to waste. The Senate must act immediately to provide relief for essential workers and caregivers on the front lines of this crisis.
We Demand More
Join us in demanding that the Senate support women and families who are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic — and do it ASAP. Our futures depend on it.
Just Plain Wrong: Putting Partisanship Ahead of Public Health
While it ignored the need for real COVID relief, the majority in the Senate prioritized confirming Trump-nominated judges to our highest courts. The Senate has now confirmed 200 Trump nominees to lifetime positions as federal judges — including one of every three judges on the circuit courts of appeals, which sit one tier beneath the U.S. Supreme Court in the federal judiciary. Many of these judges have records that are hostile to sexual and reproductive rights.
These are the same politicians who have undercut our health care infrastructure by trying to roll back the Affordable Care Act and put birth control out of reach. We’re seeing the consequences of their neglect toward public health as the pandemic continues to ravage the country.
The COVID-19 Crisis Lays Bare the Racial Inequities in Health Care and Justice
COVID-19 touches all of us across all categories of age, gender, class, and race — but it has had the deepest impact on Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities. Hundreds of years of structural and environmental racism have led to poor health and economic insecurity for these communities, and COVID-19 laid those disparities bare. The same discriminatory health care system that has resulted in a disproportionate number of Black women dying in childbirth is now resulting in a disproportionate number of Black people being killed by COVID-19.
At the same time, Black and Latinx women are more likely to be essential workers. Every day of this crisis, I’ve seen them getting on the A train in New York City, going in to work because their work has been deemed essential, even as their ability to control their bodies, their health, and their lives has not. And women not only make up the majority of health care frontline workers –– they’re also the majority of caretakers.
It’s not just historic inequities and institutional racism that led to this public health disaster — Black and Latinx people are being targeted by an administration that just doesn’t seem to care about their well being. The Trump administration’s policies intentionally increase existing barriers to care, and push economic and medical support out of reach.
I’m heartened that the HEROES Act — passed by the House in May, but ignored by the Senate — invests in the health of our families, and helps both hard-hit communities and the people who are keeping our communities afloat. But people need comprehensive health and economic support to survive this crisis. It’s time for the Senate to act.
We at Planned Parenthood Demand More From the Senate
Planned Parenthood Action Fund and our partners in the We Demand More coalition are demanding support for women and families who are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic — support that begins with passing comprehensive COVID-19 relief.
The next COVID-19 relief law must include:
no restrictions on accessing safe, legal abortion or any other essentialsexual and reproducive health care;
support for state and local governments;
free COVID-19 tests and treatment for all;
personal protective equipment for all health care providers and other frontline workers;
support for and collaboration with international partners addressing global health; and
reforms that allow people to vote safely
The delay in action from Senate leadership is inexcusable. Americans are clamoring for protection NOW. They need real relief NOW. They don’t have time to wait until it’s convenient for politicians.
Alexis McGill Johnson is president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.