Politics of Poverty

What should go in the next COVID-19 stimulus package?

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Tell Congress to put the safety and well-being of the most vulnerable in the US and abroad at the top of its agenda.

Stocking up on groceries, avoiding public transportation, staying home when sick–all of these things are impossible for millions of people here in the US. And around the world, social distancing and thorough handwashing are next to impossible if you live in a refugee camp or you share one source of water with hundreds of people.

That’s why Congress must continue taking action to ensure the safety and well-being of the most vulnerable, in the US and around the world. More than half a billion people worldwide could be pushed into poverty by this crisis, and like other disasters, the poorest and most marginalized communities without strong safety nets are paying the highest price.

Congress has already taken important steps to address the impact of the crisis, including increased unemployment insurance, direct cash assistance, small business support, and billions in international investments. But it’s simply not enough—preventing the worst of this catastrophe will require Congressional leaders to recognize that while the reach of COVID-19 may be universal, the effects are not being experienced equally.

Here are five critical things we are looking for as Congress works to hammer out the next stimulus package (for more details click here).

1. Provide greater assistance to support families and low wage workers hurt by the crisis–including undocumented people–and protect workers on the frontlines.

This includes requiring companies to compensate essential employees on the front lines of the pandemic– including grocery store clerks and hospital cleaners–with premium pay; requiring the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); and extending protections to all workers irrespective of their migration status. Given the disproportionate impacts of the virus on African Americans and other minority communities, the CDC and states must be required to report on COVID-19 testing, cases, and outcomes—disaggregated by gender, race, and socioeconomic status to help raise awareness and incentivize more inclusive policy in the pandemic response and recovery.

2. Put women at the center of relief efforts as they are likely to be hardest hit, by tackling domestic violence and ensuring women are involved in key decision-making spaces.

As families are forced to stay home, and as economic and social stresses accumulate, rates of gender-based violence spike and the reality of social isolation intensifies the impact. For women and LGBTQIA+ people who are experiencing gender-based violence, staying home to “flatten the curve” traps them in their homes, isolated with their abusers. That’s why Congress must expand funding for shelters tackling gender-based violence as well as reproductive health centers and designate their work as essential services. This includes funding for the implementation of the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act, the Sexual Assault Services Program, and the Violence Against Women’s Act. We are also calling for passage of the Safe from the Start Act to prevent and respond to gender-based violence from the onset of humanitarian emergencies around the world.

3. Show global leadership by increasing foreign assistance to protect the most vulnerable around the world, from refugees in war zones to poor people lacking adequate food and healthcare.

For the nearly 3 billion people living in poverty, the coronavirus will be a lethal killer. We must help them by increasing funding for USAID and US State Department Global Health and Pandemic Response programs, as well as additional funds for humanitarian assistance, water and sanitation, food security and economic and social support programs managed by these agencies.

4. Prevent blank checks for corporations with transparent and accountable federal relief tied to keeping workers employed and preventing the rollback of regulations that protect people and the planet.

Urgent action is needed to stimulate the economy, but it must be done in ways that benefit working families and keep the economy stable, not just bail out big corporations and wealthy shareholders. We must ensure full transparency of the amounts given and recipients of the $500 billion Treasury Exchange Stabilization Fund and take up measures to deter profit shifting to tax havens and the outsourcing of jobs. Given the numerous and generous benefits they already receive, the oil and gas sectors must not receive additional emergency assistance or bail outs. Most importantly for the health and wellbeing of everyone, we must ensure that COVID tests, treatments and vaccines—once discovered and approved for use—immediately become a global public good, available to all who need it, anywhere.

5. Protect democracy by ensuring the right to vote in safe, fair elections here and around the world.

This pandemic must not be used as an excuse to curb democracy. Congress must invest additional funds to support vote-by-mail efforts by states and to secure voter registration. We must also implement aggressive new voter protection measures for voters who have historically faced barriers to full and fair participation including voters of color, voters with disabilities, and students.

Help us push Congress to address these five areas in the upcoming stimulus package. Take action today with Oxfam and the grocery workers, refugees, and people living in poverty affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

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