3/11/2020 — 

WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to protect the health and safety of Americans and the health and well-being of our economy, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) is calling for a major economic stimulus package targeted at providing immediate relief for workers amid the coronavirus outbreak.

There are simple yet effective steps individuals can take to reduce the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), such as frequent hand washing and bumping elbows instead of shaking hands.  And Senator Reed says there are also simple yet effective steps the federal government should quickly take to stop the spread of COVID-19, help working families impacted by the outbreak, limit the economic fallout, and shore up our consumer-driven economy.

“The coronavirus is already causing significant economic disruptions and Congress must act to protect people, aid workers, and stabilize the economy.  If Congress takes bipartisan action now to expand paid sick leave and unemployment insurance it can soften the severity of the economic impact from coronavirus and help people pay their rent and get by in their hour of need,” said Senator Reed, noting that in addition to the recently passed $8 billion emergency health spending bill, more must be done to help workers and those who could find themselves temporarily out of work and without income if the coronavirus outbreak spreads. 

While President Trump is calling for a limited payroll tax cut that is tilted toward helping people with higher-incomes, Senator Reed says that approach is inadequate and that a significantly larger fiscal stimulus package that helps Americans across income levels is needed.  Senator Reed is calling for a robust emergency fiscal stimulus package that includes:

• Emergency Paid Sick Leave for All Workers impacted by quarantine orders or responsible for caring sickened family members or children impacted by school closures.  Workers could also use the days to stay home if not feeling well or if their job closed due to a public health emergency.  According to the Trump Administration, the president already has executive authority to help people with unpaid sick leave.  But it is important that workers, especially hourly-wage earners, not lose all their income in the event of a public health emergency, and the federal government must partner with the private sector to ensure financial assistance for workers who are forced to go without a paycheck.

Senator Reed stated: “Public health authorities are urging people who are sick to stay home, but if workers don’t have paid sick leave they are more likely to show up, even when they have symptoms, and that can spread illness.  Emergency paid sick leave is a smart and cost-effective solution.”

• Emergency Unemployment Insurance (UI) guaranteeing that workers who lose their jobs and those unable to work due to the economic impact of the coronavirus can collect unemployment insurance to help them make ends meet. 

“We must ensure unemployment insurance benefits are available and sufficient for workers who may lose their jobs or become unable to work from the economic impacts of the epidemic,” said Senator Reed.  “Congress must be proactive and ensure there is an unemployment insurance safety net in place for this outbreak.  Otherwise, not only will people lose their jobs, but the economy could go into a tailspin and many of those jobs could be eliminated.  We can’t let that happen.  We need bipartisan action.”

• Expand Senator Reed’s Layoff Prevention Work Sharing Law to Help More Workers and Companies Nationwide.  Senator Reed authored successful work sharing legislation signed into law as part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012.  The concept of Senator Reed’s layoff prevention work sharing law is simple: It helps people who are currently employed, but in danger of being laid off, to keep their jobs.  By giving struggling companies the flexibility to reduce hours instead of their workforce, work sharing programs prevent layoffs and help employers save money on rehiring costs.  Employees who participate in work sharing keep their jobs and receive a portion of unemployment insurance benefits to make up for lost wages.  As a result of Reed’s Layoff Prevention Act, states received grants for implementation, improved administration, and program enrollment efforts.  This assistance helped save over 130,000 jobs from 2012 to its sunset in 2015.  Multiple studies have found that communities that adopted more robust work sharing programs weathered the recession with lower unemployment rates.  But even more jobs could have been saved if these programs had been in place before business slowed down.

• Lower Barriers to Coronavirus Testing by ensuring that everyone who needs to be tested is able to access testing free of charge. Moreover, it should be made clear that undocumented people should not fear repercussions from federal immigration agents if they are hospitalized. 

• Affordable Treatment for All.  Patients must be reimbursed for any non-covered coronavirus-related costs, or else the epidemic will be worsened because Americans will fear they cannot afford the costs associated with treatment.  Federal funds should be made available to help hospitals and health care providers who face financial strain as a result of treating patients who can’t afford to pay their bills.  Further, we should be expanding opportunities for individuals to access affordable health coverage through the health insurance marketplaces in response to the rapid spread of COVID-19.

• Bolster Food Security by enhancing federal nutrition assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and school meal programs for vulnerable populations to ensure people do not lose access to wholesome meals during times of greatest need.  The maximum SNAP benefit should be increased for any eligible household with children to make up for their lack of access to subsidized school meals in the event of school closures.

• New SBA Disaster Grants. New direct grants for eligible small business recipients to help cover the cost of lost business, providing paid sick leave, and more.

• Public Transportation and Infrastructure Funding.  Federal formula grants that can be flexed to cover the operations and costs for cleaning public transportation vehicles and facilities to ensure people can safely get where they are going, as well as funding to help airports and Amtrak, which are experiencing declines in enplanements and ridership due to the coronavirus.

• Fortify Key Safety Net Programs.  In an effort to ensure the most vulnerable receive the help they need, fortify the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund, the Community Services Block Grant Program, LIHEAP, and other initiatives to help low-income people who have been kept out of work by coronavirus. 

• Foreclosure & Eviction Prevention.  Steps to help prevent foreclosures or evictions during a public health crisis and assistance to help residents who can’t pay the rent because the crisis has caused them to lose income.

• Emergency Grants to Help Keep Schools & Child Care Facilities Safe.  Federal funds that can be distributed to schools and childcare facilities that need assistance with cleanup costs and preventative steps to stop community-level outbreaks of COVID-19 in the United States.

• Financial Assistance for College Students Impacted by Coronavirus Shutdowns.  College students at impacted institutions should be eligible to receive support for basic needs such as housing, transportation, and child care through emergency grant aid, and college students impacted by COVID-19 should be protected from the loss of Pell Grants and other financial aid if they have to stay home or take a break from school.

• Anti-Price Gouging Protections.  The law must be updated to ensure that Americans are protected from price gouging of medical and non-medical essentials during this emergency.

• Clear Protections for Frontline Workers.  The federal government should set clear standards and sufficient distribution of necessary protective equipment for frontline health care and public safety officials, first responders, and other workers who are in contact with people who have been exposed or are suffering from the virus as well as the people responsible for cleaning buildings and public facilities.

Senator Reed says Congress should pass an initial stimulus package and then be prepared to enact further legislation if emergency federal aid is needed.