WASHINGTON, D.C. - The National Association of Social Worker (NASW) takes issue with Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s proposed $1 trillion COVID-19 proposal because it omits key provisions needed to mitigate the massive, ongoing impacts of the pandemic, especially on vulnerable populations.
Although the proposal extends Medicare telehealth flexibilities through December 31 or the end of public health emergency, includes a new round of $1,200 checks to individual Americans and investments in COVID-19 related healthcare programs, it fails to include any boosts of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program, which is essential in keeping food on the table for a growing number of Americans hard-hit by the pandemic.
Research shows that nearly four in 10 Black and Hispanic households with children are now struggling to feed their families. Food banks cannot keep up with this demand. Last month, NASW and nearly 2,500 other organizations signed on to a letter urging the Senate to boost the maximum SNAP benefit by 15 percent and to increase the minimum SNAP benefit from $16 to $30 – moves that are critical to spurring the economy. During an economic downturn, each $1 of SNAP benefits generates between $1.50 and $1.80 in economic activity.
Also missing from the package are sufficient unemployment benefits. Indeed, the proposal cuts the weekly benefit from $600 to $200 while states work to implement a more complex system to provide these benefits. This benefit needs to stay in place at the $600 per week level until at least January as outlined in the $3-trillion HEROES Act, the relief package passed by the House in May.
State unemployment offices are already struggling to keep up and must not be the only joblessness safety net. Many states are reversing their reopening plans, creating a barrier to employment in a crisis which shows no signs of abating. The unemployment rate is 11 percent overall, with many workers losing their jobs permanently, and with much higher jobless rates among Black and Brown people (approximately 15 percent).
In addition to insufficient unemployment benefits, the proposal fails to include any funding for:
- Emergency rental assistance
- COVID-related homelessness services
- Election protection, including vote by mail, for the 2020 elections;
- Leaves states to deal with the very high COVID-19 infection rates in jails and prisons. Although the proposal would provide funding for the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the BOP only houses about 10 percent of the nation's incarcerated population;
- State and local governments;
- Hazard pay for frontline workers.
The $70 billion the proposal includes for K-12 schools is largely conditioned on schools resuming in-person instruction, which is not safe in all communities due to surging infection rates.
Lawmakers need to act now to enact a relief package that provides enough true relief, which will stimulate the economy and avoid the pending pandemic-related economic collapse.