Coronavirus Bill Offers Relief to People with Low Incomes. Next Bill Must Do More, Include Immigrants.

The following statement can be attributed to Olivia Golden, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

March 26, 2020, Washington, D.C.—Yesterday, the Senate passed a third coronavirus response package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, after days of negotiations between Congressional leadership and the White House. The legislation is a significant improvement from an earlier Republican bill that overwhelmingly failed to consider the needs of the most economically vulnerable workers and families. That said, the CARES Act fails to meet the needs of all those impacted by the current crisis in many significant ways. The bill will not do enough to address the vast inequities in how communities will be disproportionately affected by the public health and economic crisis—including communities of color, incarcerated populations, and immigrant families—who face systemic barriers to getting the health services and economic supports they need.

Despite its shortcomings, the House should pass this bill and the president should sign it into law because the first steps in economic relief are essential for millions of workers. In addition, Congress should immediately get back to work to continue to respond to the enormous gaps that remain in responding to the burgeoning public health and economic crisis.

Importantly, the legislation funds urgent public health priorities and provides financial support to states and to many individuals and families with low incomes. The Act includes:

Crucial funding for hospitals and medical facilities facing unprecedented costs and dire need for medical supplies and protective equipment for health care professionals, as well as funding for community health centers to provide health services to all;

  • Emergency stimulus payments, or “recovery rebates” to most individuals and households with children, including many who earn low incomes;
  • Expanded access to unemployment insurance and benefits, including through the creation of a pandemic unemployment assistance program to get help to workers not eligible for state unemployment insurance;
  • Fiscal relief to states and localities to address COVID-19-related expenses and shortfalls in state budgets that threaten the provision of basic public services, including elementary and postsecondary education; and
  • Funding for child care and Head Start to maintain critical child care and early education programs during the coronavirus outbreak.

We are deeply troubled by the failure of Congress to include provisions that would expand access to health care and economic supports to millions of immigrants and their families. The bill excludes workers who pay federal income taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) from receiving stimulus payments. This wrong-headed approach to policymaking will harm over 5 million children—most of whom are U.S. citizens—whose parents will be ineligible for stimulus payments that could put food on the table and help address other material hardship during the challenging time that lies ahead. Lawmakers also failed to expand Emergency Medicaid or Disaster-SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) assistance to cover those who are not eligible for regular Medicaid or SNAP but who are in need of assistance that includes critical testing and treatment for COVID-19. Leaving people out of health care and economic relief during this unprecedented emergency is not only unfair, unjust and immoral—it undermines the public health crisis and puts millions of families at risk of falling into poverty.

The bill also fails to go far enough in providing income supports and nutrition assistance to people with low incomes. Despite the critical importance of the SNAP for individuals’ health—as well as its proven effectiveness in serving as an economic stimulus during economic downturns—the bill does not increase benefits for households receiving SNAP. In contrast, a bill proposed this week in the U.S. House of Representatives recognized the vital role played by programs that support basic needs and would have increased SNAP benefits, as well as made improvements to tax credits for individuals with low incomes.

While funding for child care in the bill will meet some critical needs, it isn’t nearly substantial enough to uphold a nearly $99 billion industry that enables every other industry in this country to function. Without far more substantial federal dollars, child care providers—already operating at razor-thin margins—will be at risk of being unable to reopen when the public health crisis is over.

Although the bill provides critical support and relief to students with low incomes, student loan borrowers, and colleges and universities, the legislation does not go far enough. Students with low incomes and student borrowers will require more assistance to succeed in school and to lead healthy and prosperous lives. Institutions that educate large concentrations of students with low incomes and students of color, such as community colleges and historically black colleges and minority-serving institutions, will need increased federal funding to weather this crisis.

The Act also failed to remedy the last-minute carve-outs in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which excluded large employers (those with more than 500 employees), and gave broad authority to the U.S. Department of Labor to exempt small employers (those with 50 or fewer employees) from providing their workers with needed emergency paid leave due to the pandemic. This will have a devastating impact on millions of workers in low-wage jobs who must decide between their health and the health of their loved ones, the public’s health and well-being, and their need for economic security.

Following the CARES Act, Congress should not delay in continuing its work to support households in weathering the public health and economic crisis. States, cities, and counties will need more fiscal relief. We must also close major gaps in health care access to protect everyone’s health. We will need investments in workforce development and job creation to strengthen the economy and support workers once the public health crisis has ended, and we should address those who were already facing inequities in access to economic opportunity before the current crisis—including youth and young adults, immigrant families, people impacted by the criminal justice system, and communities of color.

Read more on CLASP’s response to the coronavirus crisis see.