A Proper Congressional Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

July 11, 2020 by Oluwole Oluborode

By Julyana Dawson*

The year 2020 will be a year remembered by the COVID-19 pandemic in large part because of the substantial economic harm it will cause to many American families.[1] Unfortunately, lower-income Americans, who are more likely to experience economic hardship from such a crisis, are disproportionately individuals and families of color with limited wealth. In response to this economic harm, Congress must pass more effective legislation to support those individuals who do not have the wealth necessary to manage this unexpected health and economic crisis.[2]

The unequal distribution of wealth, which has persisted throughout U.S. history, has largely contributed to the racial wealth gap that exists in the United States today. The average white family has 10 times the wealth of the typical Black family and seven times the wealth of the typical Latinx family. This racial divide in familial wealth is not the result of individual choices but instead is due to over 400 years of collective harms by federal, state, and local governments. This racial wealth gap leaves minority, lower-income persons economically vulnerable in times of financial hardship as many of these individuals live paycheck to paycheck, and are thus unable to go several days without income–let alone weeks or even months.[3]

In the event of an unexpected emergency, like COVID-19, an individual’s personal wealth or familial wealth can help ensure their financial security throughout this uncertain time. However, a disproportionate number of Black and Latinx households have fewer financial resources to help them to do so. In addition, individuals who live in lower-income communities are disproportionately uninsured or underinsured and have fewer employment benefits to help them weather this public health emergency.[4]

The structural discrimination that continues to persist in the United States today has largely resulted in the racial segregation of many occupations as Black and Latinx individuals are disproportionately relegated to lower-wage jobs with limited employment benefits in comparison to their similarly situated white counterparts. These lower-wage jobs include: hotel staff, waiters, retail salespersons, and home health aides, among other positions. These positions often provide low and volatile wages, few benefits (including lack of health insurance), and limited agency for workers to achieve flexible working conditions, thus restricting workers’ ability to work from home or take paid time off.

Congress must respond to this inequity and implement legislation to protect these communities both in the wake of this pandemic and in the future.

 

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, policymakers should take the following steps:

 

  • Ensure easier access to affordable medical care;
  • Ensure sufficient paid sick, family, and medical leave;
  • Increase access to capital for minority-owned businesses;
  • Suspend student loan repayment and substantial credit card debt repayment;
  • Temporarily waive all penalties for late credit card payments and auto loan payments;
  • Temporarily suspend all home foreclosures, payment of mortgages, and payment of utilities; and
  • Place a moratorium on all rent increases and evictions.

 

In sum, Congress must take steps to ensure that all future responses to economic crises are made expeditiously in order to alleviate any financial burden on lower-income Americans. The economic implications of the COVID-19 pandemic are an indication that current, and future, policymakers need to take steps to address wealth inequality in the United States and prioritize the financial security of all Americans.

 

 

* Assistant Submissions Editor, GEO. J. L. & MOD. CRIT. RACE PERSP.; J.D. Candidate, Georgetown University Law Center (L’20), © 2020, Julyana Dawson.

[1] Sarah Chaney & Eric Morath, Record 6.6 Million Americans Sought Unemployment Benefits Last Week The Wall Street Journal, Wall Street Journal, https://www.wsj.com/articles/another-3-1-million-americans-likely-sought-unemployment-benefits-last-week-11585819800 (last visited Apr. 2, 2020). Approximately 6.6 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits as of April 2, 2020. This translates to roughly 6 percent of the U.S. labor force filing for unemployment benefits, up from 0.3 percent at the end of February.

[2] This post was written prior to the passage of the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” or the “CARES Act” S. 3548, 116th Cong. (2020).

[3] Id. For example, almost 30 percent of Black college-educated households and 20 percent of Latinx college-educated households would not be able to afford to pay all of their bills after paying a $400 emergency expense. These figures increase to nearly 60 percent and 50 percent, respectively, for non-college-educated Black and Latinx households.

[4] Danyelle Solomon & Darrick Hamilton, The Coronavirus Pandemic and the Racial Wealth Gap Center for American Progress, American Progress, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/news/2020/03/19/481962/coronavirus-pandemic-racial-wealth-gap/ (last visited Mar. 20, 2020).