Over 300,000 people have died from the Coronavirus. Millions have been ruined financially. Thousands are dying everyday. In December 2020, Congress passed a relief bill. There are some good things. But it is not adequate considering the scale of the emergency.
This is one of the greatest national emergencies in American history and must be treated as such.
We don't claim that this a complete agenda for President Elect Joe Biden on what he can do about this emergency, but we wanted to pick out five essential priorities that need to be done as soon as possible.
#1) Support the Jayapal and Sanders 2020 Emergency Health Care Bill
U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) introduced the "Bicameral Emergency Health Care Guarantee Act" on May 15th, 2020. The purpose of this act is to ensure that families can afford to seek treatment for Covid 19 by using Medicare's existing, efficient and direct payment structure. Under the Bicameral Emergency Health Care Guarantee Act, the federal government would cover all costs of treatment for uninsured Americans as well as all out-of-pocket costs for those with private or public insurance throughout the duration of the pandemic. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced companion legislation in the Senate.
The bill has been endorsed by 32 national organizations and unions, including the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, National Nurses United, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America; Center for Popular Democracy, Indivisible, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), MoveOn.Org, National Domestic Workers Alliance, People’s Action, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Public Citizen, Social Security Works, Sunrise Movement, United We Dream, Working Families Party, Business for Medicare for All, Debs-Jones-Douglass Institute, Democracy for America, Democratic Socialists of America, Economic Opportunity Institute, Economic Policy Institute, Faith Action Network, Healthcare-NOW, Hometown Action, Jane Addams Senior Center, Labor Campaign for Single Payer, Legal Voice, Medicare for All Now, Partners for Dignity & Rights, Presente.org, and Progressive Democrats of America.
We're not saying this is the only solution. But universal health care should be introduced until the emergency passes.
#2) End the Insane Open Enrollment System for Health Insurance
People need to be able to enroll in a health care plan in order to deal with this crisis. This should apply to all health insurance plans, including Medicare Part D, the drug plan.
Having a mere six weeks to choose and enroll in a health care plan is insane. And those who miss the enrollment period have to wait an entire year to sign up, unless they meet a special exemption.
In a time of crisis, where everyone needs health care in order to protect the general populous from the pandemic, the limitations on enrollment must be brought to an end. People must be able to buy health insurance anytime they want.
#3) Restore Social Security and Medicare Operating Budget Back to 2010 Levels
In the last ten years, we've seen the worst cuts ever to the operating budget for running vital social security programs. This is a matter of life and death. One hour wait times are not acceptable on the phone and many offices have been closed. Phone banks should be funded so that waiting times would be 10 minutes at most.
Because of drastic cuts over the years, thousands of people die waiting for their social security benefits. In 2017, 10,000 people died waiting for social security benefits (The Washington Post). And by 2018, 19,000 died waiting for social security disability benefits in a period of 2 years (Globenewswire).
In a crisis, people don't have time to wait. Spending must go back to 2010 levels.
#4) The Need for Paid Sick Leave
America cannot fight the Coronavirus without paid sick leave. The United States is the only rich country that fails to provide any nationally-mandated paid sick leave. Of United Nation member countries, 181 provide paid sick leave in some form while 11 do not, including the U.S. And the countries hit the hardest by the global pandemic were the ones that didn't offer paid sick leave from the first day of illness.
Paid sick leave provides an economic safety net while also ensuring that people with symptoms of disease do not spread disease (including a disease like the Coronavirus). Paid sick leave will also increase peoples' willingness to get tested. Because many people are not going to want to risk testing positive if that means going 2 weeks without pay.
Pandemics are not a problem that will go away. So America needs to be prepared for both the current Coronavirus pandemic, and whatever pandemic may hit in the future, because we cannot afford to keep shutting down the economy.
#5) Time for a Massive Increase in Coronavirus Testing
People have put forth wearing masks and social distancing as a solution to the Coronavirus crisis. Masks and social distancing are certainly a start, but the most effective solution is universal testing for all. This is what the experts have been saying and this is what has worked very well in countries like South Korea.
Joe Biden, recently called for a sevenfold increase in Coronavirus testing, and we agree. (The Hill)
Right now, the problem with testing in general is that America only has around 25 million Coronavirus testing kits a month. Some experts say way more is needed in order to safely re-open the economy. And 25 million is roughly the same number we had back in July.
It is time for a massive increase in Coronavirus testing. We cannot deal with the threat of the virus if we cannot find the virus. And the best way to find out who has the virus is to dramatically increase testing. There also needs to be repeated testing, because an individual can be fine one month and sick the next.
#6) Broadband For All
During a national pandemic where people need to socially distance and isolate for their own safety, internet connectivity has become more important than ever. It is absolutely vital that the government develops some kind of plan to provide internet for all, because right now telework is not an option for everyone. There are still several areas in the country that have no access to the internet. Poor and rural areas have been left out. And Coronavirus deaths are much higher among the poor.
We should set a national goal of at least 100 MB per second for 100% of all Americans. We'll leave the details to the experts.
And the government should pay for those who can't afford it.
The adoption of a National Broadband plan won't happen by accident. We need strong leadership and funding from the government to make this happen. There needs to be subsidies for the poor and a broadening of the range of internet access. The President should set up a National Broadband council of the top companies in the industry, along with experts and citizen groups that can offer the best ideas. A "Broadband Summit" should be held at the White House to get the views of all relevant parties, particularly the cable TV and cell phone companies. Decisions need to be made about the means to reach all communities.