PROTECTING AMERICANS AND RECOVERING FROM THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
When we do not have competent, experienced, compassionate leaders in government, the American people suffer. That is the case with the novel coronavirus. President Trump and his Administration missed multiple opportunities to protect the American people from this deadly pathogen. Instead of recognizing the danger and confronting it head-on, President Trump lied to the American people about the disease’s severity, its transmissibility, and the threat it posed to lives and livelihoods.
Make no mistake: President Trump’s abject failure to respond forcefully and capably to the COVID-19 pandemic—his failure to lead—makes him responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans.
COVID-19 has laid bare deep fault lines in our economy, our society, and our health care system. Disparities in health care access, in access to paid sick leave, in environmental quality, in the employment market, and in housing have contributed to disproportionate rates of infection and death among Black Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, and certain Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
President Trump’s failure to pay attention to early intelligence reports about the pandemic wasted critical weeks in which we could have prepared for the outbreak. Once the pandemic began spreading in the United States, the President’s failure to lay out clear, consistent guidelines for cities, states, businesses, and school districts to control the spread of COVID-19 created widespread confusion and chaos. His reckless disregard for the advice of public health experts has made it harder for mayors and governors to protect the American people. Rather than surge the production of personal protective equipment and other critical supplies where they were needed most, the Administration held life-saving resources hostage for political obeisance. Instead of bringing Americans together, President Trump tried to divide us, using racist and xenophobic rhetoric that has contributed to an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. And in the midst of the pandemic, the Trump Administration is arguing in court to invalidate the Affordable Care Act and rip health coverage away from tens of millions of people.
President Trump and his Administration have also failed to drive an economic response that is commensurate with the scale of the challenge before us, preferring to act as though the recession caused by his incompetent mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic will correct itself. He has hung small businesses out to dry while cutting blank checks to the largest corporations; failed to enact adequate support for public school systems, colleges, universities, and state and local governments to maintain public services and jobs; endangered the health of essential workers by failing to enact workplace safety standards; and neglected to protect working families from economic ruin.
Democrats will save lives by using every available tool to beat back this pandemic, which continues to sicken and kill hundreds of Americans per day, and lead a global effort to prevent, detect, and respond to future pandemic threats.
We must start by making COVID-19 testing widely available, convenient, and free to everyone. We must also expand funding so state and local public health departments can hire sufficient staff to conduct contact tracing for everyone who tests positive for the novel coronavirus. Only through widespread, regular testing and tracing can we hope to understand the scope of the pandemic and contain it.
In a public health crisis, we all have to rely on each other. That’s why Democrats support making COVID-19 testing, treatment, and any eventual vaccines free to everyone, regardless of their wealth, insurance coverage, or immigration status. We are all only as safe from this disease as are the most vulnerable among us.
It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it’s catastrophic for public health. The current crisis would be even worse without the Affordable Care Act in place. But in the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans need even more help, which is why Democrats will take immediate action to preserve and expand health insurance coverage. We will provide direct, increased support to states to enroll eligible adults in Medicaid, have the federal government cover a higher percentage of the bill, and add incentives for states which have not yet expanded Medicaid to do so.
For people who risk losing their insurance coverage if they lose their jobs in this pandemic and in President Trump’s recession, Democrats believe the federal government should pick up 100 percent of the tab for COBRA insurance, which keeps people on their employer-sponsored plans, without restrictions. We will re-open the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, even outside of the normal open enrollment season, and expand subsidies to make it easier for people to buy health coverage. Democrats will also make available on the marketplace a public option administered through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) which includes a platinum-level choice, with low fees and no deductibles. Low-income Americans will be automatically enrolled in the public option at zero cost to them, though they may choose to opt out at any time.
We will keep these emergency measures in place until the pandemic ends and unemployment falls significantly. And should the United States find itself in another pandemic or severe economic downturn in the future, these protections will be made automatically available, so Americans are never again left to fend for themselves in times of crisis.
Democrats are appalled that President Trump failed to act on the advice of Congress to maintain a strong stockpile of critical medical supplies, including personal protective equipment, or adequately surge U.S. manufacturing of needed equipment through tools like the Defense Production Act. The resulting equipment shortages endangered millions of lives, including those of our brave frontline health care workers and other essential workers. Such shortages are unacceptable and must never happen again. Democrats will direct the federal government to work with private-sector manufacturers to dramatically scale up the United States’ domestic manufacturing capacity for both personal protective equipment and essential medicines. We will restore federal leadership to ensure medical supplies are distributed according to need, not political favoritism, and never put states in the position of having to compete against each other for life-saving materials.
Democrats will aggressively enforce non-discrimination protections in the Americans with Disabilities Act and other civil rights laws, especially when designing emergency management systems and new facilities and services in response to the pandemic. Democrats will prohibit unjustified segregation of patients with disabilities, and additionally prohibit rationing of health care that refuses or diverts hospitalization, treatment, or supplies based on a patient’s disability. We recognize people with disabilities living in group homes and other care facilities are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, and that people with disabilities may require additional resources to protect their health, well-being, and independence during the pandemic. We will improve oversight and expand protections for residents and staff at nursing homes, which have seen some of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks. And we will expand support for telemedicine, so Americans do not have to go without essential health care during the pandemic.
America must never again be left vulnerable to a global pandemic. Democrats believe we must follow the informed advice of scientists and public health experts, and will take steps to protect federal scientists from political influence. Democrats will act swiftly to stand up a comprehensive, national public health surveillance program for COVID-19 and future infectious diseases. We will recruit at least 100,000 contact tracers with support from trusted local organizations in the communities most at risk to help state and local health departments use culturally competent approaches to identify people at risk of contracting or spreading the coronavirus.
Democrats believe we must reverse decades of underinvestment in America’s public health infrastructure. We will substantially increase funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and for state and local public health departments, many of which suffered deep budget cuts during the Great Recession and are at risk of further cuts as a result of President Trump’s recession. State and local public health departments should be given sufficient resources to address pandemic diseases and other public health crises through coordinated efforts that are inclusive of underrepresented groups who may be disproportionately impacted. Democrats will support medical and public health research grants for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), which are particularly well suited to research health disparities in the context of COVID-19.
Solving the public health crisis posed by the pandemic is the surest way to get the economy back on track. Countries that have taken aggressive measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic and stop chains of infection from spreading are poised to have stronger, faster recoveries than the United States.
But containing the pandemic won’t be enough to repair the damage President Trump has done to our economy and to the American people—or to build back better.
During acute economic downturns, Democrats believe that we must take care of our workforce and aim to keep workers whole. We will reform the current unemployment insurance system to enable more workers to remain attached to their jobs, including by promoting payroll support and work-sharing programs with generous rates of wage replacement and requirements that employers maintain workers’ benefits. For those workers who do lose their jobs, we will expand the unemployment insurance system to cover more workers, including independent contractors and gig, part-time, and tipped workers; make sure platform companies and companies that misclassify employees as contractors pay in to support the system like other employers do; and raise wage replacement rates, which are far too low in many states. We will expand, not cut, nutrition assistance and food security programs that millions of Americans are relying on in this crisis. Democrats will also make long-overdue investments to upgrade and modernize states’ unemployment system technology and ensure the Department of Labor conducts strong oversight of state unemployment systems to make sure that unemployed workers can quickly and efficiently access the benefits they are owed.
To prevent President Trump’s recession from becoming a depression, Democrats believe we must act immediately to make ambitious investments that will support and create jobs. We urgently need to support state and local governments, which are suffering severe budget shortfalls due to declines in tax revenues while being asked to shoulder the burden of COVID-related services and rising unemployment. State and local budget cuts translate quickly into lost jobs in education, health care, and social services—all fields where we need to be adding jobs to meet the needs of the American people. Democrats will extend significant aid to state and local governments, school districts, and public and nonprofit colleges and universities, including HBCUs and MSIs, to address these budget shortfalls and secure jobs. We will condition state and federal aid on maintaining and expanding public-sector employment, including provisions to protect workers’ rights.
In states and cities across the country, too many parents are being forced to choose between keeping their jobs and keeping their children safe. Democrats believe that making child care affordable and widely available is essential to recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. We will provide funding to stabilize the sector and ensure child care and educational settings are able to meet the highest possible public health and worker safety standards to protect the health of care workers, children, parents, and the broader community.
The United States is facing an unprecedented housing crisis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and President Trump’s recession, with millions of families at risk of being evicted. We support state and local measures to freeze rent increases, evictions, utility shutoffs, and late fees for rent, to prevent families from becoming homeless and making the pandemic even worse.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit small businesses especially hard. Democrats support making significant, immediate grants and loans to help small businesses make payroll, pay rent and other expenses, and keep their doors open when possible. Some estimates indicate as many as 40 percent of Black-owned small businesses may not survive President Trump’s recession, and small businesses owned by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and Latinos are also at risk. Democrats will prioritize support for Black entrepreneurs and other entrepreneurs of color, as well as women entrepreneurs, including by expanding funding for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and other proven programs that invest in low-income communities and communities of color.
We will impose rigorous oversight on big corporations seeking financial assistance to weather the pandemic and President Trump’s recession, to ensure that federal dollars support keeping workers on payroll, not enriching CEOs or shareholders. Taxpayer money should not be used to pay out dividends, fund stock buybacks, or give raises to executives.
No one should have to choose between protecting their health and earning a living. Paid sick leave is a necessity even under normal circumstances, but in a pandemic, it’s a matter of national security. This is especially true for the Black, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander, Native American, and low-income workers who are less likely to be able to work from home. We will immediately enact robust paid sick leave protections as part of the COVID-19 response for all workers in the economy, including contractors, gig workers, domestic workers, and the self-employed. And Democrats will take immediate action to protect essential workers on the job where the Trump Administration has neglected them, from agriculture to meatpacking plants to manufacturing facilities to hospitals, including by issuing and enforcing effective infectious disease workplace safety standards through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
As millions of Americans have stayed at home to prevent the spread of the pandemic, it is plain to see that in the 21st century, an accessible internet is not optional: it is a vital tool for receiving an education and for participating in the economy, and all Americans need access to high-speed, affordable broadband service. Democrats will take action to prevent states from blocking municipalities and rural co-ops from building publicly-owned broadband networks, and increase federal support for municipal broadband while requiring that funding recipients adhere to policies that support good jobs and include strong protections for workers’ right to organize. We will increase public investment in rural, urban, and Tribal broadband infrastructure, offer low-income Americans subsidies for accessing high-speed internet, and invest in digital literacy training programs, so children and families and people with disabilities can fully participate in school, work, and life from their homes. And Democrats will restore the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) clear authority to take strong enforcement action against broadband providers who violate net neutrality principles through blocking, throttling, paid prioritization, or other measures that create artificial scarcity and raise consumer prices for this vital service.
President Trump and his Administration have not only failed the American people, they have failed the world. In past public health crises, including the Ebola epidemic, disciplined American diplomacy shaped and led a common global response, rallied public and private resources, accelerated research into treatments and vaccines, and directed global emergency aid. In the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump not only failed to lead, he actively sabotaged global efforts to slow the pandemic. He refused to work with our partners to identify and coordinate manufacture of potential vaccines; allegedly tried to poach exclusive rights to a vaccine candidate from our ally Germany; cut CDC and State Department programs for early identification of infectious pathogens; withdrew funding and support for the World Health Organization (WHO); and tried to distract from his dereliction of duty by drawing from the authoritarian playbook he so admires—using racist rhetoric to blame “outsiders” and stoke divisions at home.
Democrats will take the opposite tack by restoring American leadership, driving a coordinated global health and economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and ensuring that we’re far better prepared for future global health emergencies.