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Letter to Congress: Re: Five Essential Steps for Re-opening a Healthy Economy 

 April 29, 2020

Dear Member of Congress:

As Congress considers reopening the economy, it is imperative that we protect those individuals and communities most vulnerable and at risk for COVID-19. We all want workplaces and schools to re-open and to see our loved ones in person. Improving the health and safety of low-income communities and communities of color is the key to fast tracking the re-opening of the economy.

If there is one thing that has been clear throughout the crisis, it is that America is only as strong as its most vulnerable. Re-opening the economy must go hand in hand with strengthening protections for those who are most vulnerable to the disease and least resourced to deal with the associated financial and health implications of the pandemic. Mass unemployment or mass death are not the only two options. 

Green For All urges you to adopt the five steps outlined below to protect the health and economic outcomes for all Americans. 

The guiding principle in re-opening businesses, schools and other establishments must be that they are safe for employees, consumers, and students. Already, essential workers face unsafe working and commuting conditions in the workplaces that are open, and until this perilous situation is remedied, it is premature and unsafe to open additional businesses. The racial disparities evident in exposure, contraction, and death from the disease reinforce that if adequate precautions are not taken, more people will become ill or die. We therefore urge you to adopt the following conditions for re-opening businesses and fund programs to improve the health and wealth of all Americans.   

STEP 1: Safe workplaces 

  1. Expand COVID-19 testing capacity and make testing broadly available for individuals and employers. 
  2. Allocate sufficient resources to all hospitals, health centers, and health workers to ensure sufficient equipment (including PPE) and capacity. 
  3. Require any business that is open or planning to re-open (including those employing people who are incarcerated) to follow CDC guidelines and best practices, including regular COVID-19 screenings and providing sanitizer, face masks and other necessary personal protective equipment (PPE).
  4. Require the Department of Labor to enforce these requirements–if necessary through fines and business shutdowns for non-compliance. 

STEP 2: Safe commutes

  1. Allocate additional resources to public transit agencies to ensure that transit workers have PPE. 
  2. Allocate additional resources to public transit agencies to develop and implement plans to ensure commuting conditions are made safe, including by providing funding for the increased cost of additional sanitation, ventilation and screening.
  3. Enforce safe distancing and procedures by funding additional transit staff to assist as “ushers” and facilitators to keep transit running smoothly and safely. 

STEP 3: Safe communities

  1. Strengthen environmental protections and enforcement to reduce air pollution exposure, which weakens immune systems and make people more susceptible to disease, especially for high risk populations. 
  2. Prioritize infrastructure investments and job creation for local, state and federal projects that reduce pollution, curb climate change, and build climate resilience, especially for low income families and in communities of color, which are hit first and worst by crisis. By investing wisely in building a green economy that puts millions of people to work weatherizing homes, expanding rooftop solar, building affordable and job-accessible housing, and deploying zero-emission trucks and buses, we can save residents and businesses money, stimulate the economy, reduce another global threat, and build a better future for all. 

STEP 4: Equitable access to healthcare 

  1. Target additional health care funding where the emergency is the greatest to address the racial and income disparities in exposure, contraction, and complications from COVID-19. 
    • Provide additional funding to facilities that serve vulnerable and highly impacted populations, such as Medicaid disproportionate share hospitals (DSHs), federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and other safety net providers to better serve patients. 
    • Provide grants to state and local authorities which manage correctional facilities so as to provide for testing and treatment for COVID-19, and which allow low-risk vulnerable incarcerated communities, such as the elderly and immunocompromised, to be released on home confinement. 

STEP 5: Fair access to relief and recovery

  1. End discrimination in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses and workers and require equitable lending and grant making. 
    • Require at least 50% of new PPP funds are set aside for community-based financial institutions such as Community Development Financial Institutions, Minority Depository Institutions, USDA rural development programs, and other programs that provide assistance to businesses in underserved communities, particularly women, minority, and veteran owned businesses. 
    • Reform the discriminatory PPP rules that prohibit small business owners who are indicted, but not convicted of a crime, as well as those who were formerly incarcerated or on probation or parole, from receiving small business protection loans.
  2. End discrimination and usurpation of direct relief checks. 
    • Guarantee direct relief payments to millions of vulnerable workers and households who did not need to file a tax return or do not have a Social Security number. 
    • Prevent individual relief checks from being seized in order to pay debt collectors, court fines, fees, and restitution in order to stimulate economic growth and support people’s basic needs. 
  3. Provide job placement and training assistance to get people back to work, especially the hardest hit communities, in jobs that provide a living wage and benefits for people to live with dignity. Ensure safe access to anti-recidivism programming, including educational and job training programs, during the ongoing crisis. 
  4. Sustain emergency investments until the emergency is over. The economic impacts of COVID-19 will last long beyond the pandemic itself and continued support is necessary until the economic crisis is over, when unemployment in a state is down to at least 5%. As the Center for Budget Policies and Priorities points out, relief policies such as expanded unemployment benefits, state fiscal relief through a higher federal share of Medicaid costs, increased SNAP benefits, should be tied to appropriate indicators of economic conditions. 

Re-opening the economy to go back to “normal” is the worst way to look at this situation. “Normal” helped to get us here. The old economy failed low income families and people of color in ways this current health crisis has only exacerbated. This crisis has reinforced that we are all interconnected and we are only as strong as the most vulnerable among us. It’s time for American ingenuity to be put to the test to build a new economy that’s better than before — one where the people hit first and worst by crisis do not benefit last and least from the solutions — and instead build an economy where we all have greater economic opportunity and resilience.  

Sincerely,

Michelle Romero
National Director, Green For All