The HEROES Act relief package passed in the House of Representatives will help address some of the most urgent needs families and communities face across the country, but longer-term solutions are needed to fix the dramatic inequities that have been exposed, said Oxfam today.
While the bill delivers on some urgent domestic priorities and provides critically important new assistance to families and frontline workers, it fails to adopt the transformative solutions our country needs to address fundamental gaps that have led so many families to live on the edge, paycheck to paycheck for decades. And while the focus is admittedly on US needs, this package does not provide any additional funding for global response and looming coronavirus-induced global food crisis.
“The COVID pandemic has exposed the deep systemic inequality and today, millions of families and marginalized people are struggling to pay the bills, stay healthy, and survive,” said Abby Maxman, president and CEO of Oxfam America. “While the HEROES Act would stem the bleeding, it is ultimately another huge band-aid on a patient that needs major surgery.”
The bill includes fixes and funding for key priorities, such as premium pay and childcare support for essential workers, an additional cash payment to individuals, and extended Unemployment Insurance. However, the funding for some of these fixes falls well short of what is needed, and the Act does not include robust new payroll guarantees urgently needed to stem the tide of unemployment, as other wealthy countries have done, and members of the House Majority have proposed.
“The swift and devastating spread of the virus in the US is dealing a staggering blow to our public health systems and our economy and exposing how working families have been struggling for decades,” said Maxman. “Now is not time for half-measures and incremental tweaks to an economic system already fragile and rigged in favor of the powerful. Now is the time for decisive, audacious actions to prevent long-lasting and grave economic consequences for everyone—especially for those pushed out of progress for decades.”
Millions more workers--including many low-wage workers—would be able to access paid leave benefits if the HEROES Act becomes law. Additionally, the expansion of possible reasons workers can use paid leave for gives workers more flexibility to use this paid leave benefit to care for themselves and their family members. The bill also appropriates $7 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants and $850 million for child and family care through Social Service Block Grants. These funds can be used by states to provide childcare support for essential workers, as well as to help maintain the childcare infrastructure during this vulnerable time. While this is a good start, Congress needs to ensure that families will have affordable options when childcare facilities start to open back up.
The HEROES Act also builds on the CARES Act by providing an additional $100 million for programs under the Violence Against Women Act, including money to financially support survivors, invest in victim services and ensure immediate and long-term viability of the Crime Victims Fund. The bill also provides important provisions for survivors and advocates, such as $48 million for the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) and the appropriation of $200 billion for hazard pay for employees doing essential work, including domestic violence and sexual assault advocates.
However, the HEROES Act is weak on accountability, failing to make fundamental improvements to ensure better oversight of relief funds under the CARES Act and under the new bill. A stronger HEROES Act would have incorporated the provisions of the Coronavirus Oversight and Recovery Ethics (CORE) Act, which would strengthen congressional and executive branch oversight, prohibit conflicts of interest, improve disclosure of funds and recipients, protect whistleblowers, and restrict and disclose lobbying and political spending.
The HEROES Act also failed to include critical safeguards against oil and gas sector opportunism contained in the Resources for Workforce Investments Not Drilling (ReWIND) Act and instead leaves the door open for further efforts from industry and the administration to secure additional support for fossil fuels. And while the bill does fix some of the excessive tax giveaways of the CARES Act, it fails to include important new disclosure requirements for country-by-country reporting or to take action to prevent companies residing in tax havens from benefiting from coronavirus relief efforts, as several other European countries have done.
The bill does extend support to millions of vulnerable people who were excluded by the CARES Act. Crucially, it ensures that all people who need it will have access to testing, treatment, and eventual vaccines regardless of their immigration status. It also extends the cash payments in the CARES Act to previously excluded taxpayers including undocumented people and U.S. citizens who are married to immigrants. The bill mandates the release of some people from immigration detention facilities, where coronavirus infection rates are on the rise and social distancing is all but impossible, and mandates that people be provided with vital hygiene products. However, the bill does not go far enough in mandating wider releases or crucially, the suspension of immigration enforcement activities which are tearing families apart and increasing rather than decreasing the number of people detained.
The people of Puerto Rico, still reeling from multiple consecutive disasters, would receive increased SNAP and included tax credits, but the bill failed to include the earthquake disaster supplemental (H.R. 5687) or the fix to many of FEMA’s hurricane aid denials (S1605, HR2914), leaving tens of thousands of Puerto Rican families without possibility of rebuilding their homes.
The pandemic could push 500 million people into poverty and take the lives of 40 million people around the world, yet this bill does little to address global needs any US leadership or even collaboration.
“While we address urgent and pressing needs here at home, we must also contribute to global response to this crisis, as no country can deal with this alone,” said Maxman. “This virus knows no boundaries, and we can’t beat it at home if we don’t also fight it overseas. We urge Congress to include at least $12 billion of life-saving foreign assistance in the final law.”