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Help protect people vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 in the US and around the globe.

Senate COVID Relief Package Takes Key Steps But More Action Needed

By Oxfam

The economic aid, relief and economic security package passed by the Senate today takes some urgently needed steps to respond to the economic crisis caused by the COVID19 pandemic, but Oxfam America called on Congress and the President to do more in the days and weeks ahead to ensure the safety and well-being of the most vulnerable.

“Increased worker protections and unemployment insurance, direct cash assistance, small business support, and billions in international investments are key parts of this package that are so desperately needed,” said Abby Maxman, president of Oxfam America. “This response, however, doesn’t do enough for working families and is still too tilted towards corporations.”

The bill includes vital and needed expansions to the Unemployment Insurance system to support workers, including a new COVID-specific program that covers many new types of workers, like those in the gig economy. The bill fails, however, to expand requirements for employers to provide paid sick, family and medical leave that had been included in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and fails to adequately address the safety of workers providing essential services in healthcare, grocery, delivery, caregiving and beyond.

Intense negotiations resulted in important measures to ensure accountability and transparency over the $500 billion corporate “slush fund” prioritized by the White House. And while restrictions on stock buybacks and executive compensation are key steps, more needs to be done urgently to ensure that companies protect their workers and prioritize fighting the COVID19 crisis rather than funnel more money to wealthy investors.

The Senate rightly moved to avoid any specific bailouts for the fossil fuel industry, which already benefits from subsidies, carveouts and special tax treatment.

Oxfam applauds desperately needed investments in international financial institutions, including the World Bank, which are already responding and will be increasingly called upon as the crisis reaches developing countries. Continued US support and engagement in these institutions is critical not only financially but also in setting high standards for aid effectiveness, ensuring full transparency and allowing flexibility and resources needed for governments to maximize public services which can benefit all people, especially the most vulnerable, during this exceptional time.

“This crisis has clearly shown that no one individual, community, or country can deal with this crisis alone. We must work together, in our communities and across borders, with dignity and compassion,” continued Maxman. “We're glad to see Congress come together to support some of our best tools for this shared global work, the development institutions that enable Americans to join with people all across the world fighting this crisis on the front lines."

Oxfam praised increased foreign aid to support countries unprepared to respond to the pandemic, with a focus on vulnerable communities. But Oxfam warned that this assistance must utilize and strengthen national health systems, and should not come at the expense of other lifesaving and poverty-reducing aid. Given the scale of the crisis, much more investment is needed, including for the World Health Organization.

Oxfam applauds the efforts of members of Congress to ensure funds are appropriated to respond to the likely increase in violence against women and children that often accompanies crises, especially as this pandemic will require more social distancing and “shelter in place.” Funding, however, is limited and does not center on the concerns of vulnerable women and gender-diverse people.

Oxfam also praised significant support for states to deal with the crisis, and to prepare for and protect the 2020 elections, including by making polling places safer for poll workers and voters, and to expand voting by mail, early voting, and online registration. Because these measures are critical to protect the fundamental right of Americans to participate in elections, we hope to see them further strengthened and expanded in subsequent legislative efforts.

Oxfam is especially concerned, however, that the bill does nothing to provide protections for the millions of undocumented workers that have been the backbone of our economy and fails to stop immigration enforcement activities that have a chilling effect on entire communities in need of basic services, and to address the risks to people trapped in America’s inhumane and unnecessary immigration detention system.

Continuing ICE raids and arrests separate families and deter people from seeking medical care, bringing negative health consequences for entire communities. Ending the practice of immigration detention is especially urgent in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. DHS detention facilities are especially vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 due to well-documented substandard conditions, over-crowding, and poor and infrequent access to healthcare.

While the Senate bill has included Puerto Rico and other territories in most of its provisions, Puerto Rico’s particular needs -- increasing SNAP benefits, leveling tax credits, and ensuring that cash aid will reach the most vulnerable populations—have not been met in this package. Oxfam demands that Puerto Rico, still reeling from other disasters, receives waivers to matching requirements and gets the flexibility it needs to attend to its combined emergency needs.

“This enormous package is urgently needed, but Congress and the President must do more to increase the resources available to families hard hit by the crisis,” concluded Maxman. “Additional cash payments, prioritizing recovery and resilience through investments in green energy and climate mitigation, and additional funds for international assistance will be needed.”

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