COVID-19 has created an unprecedented societal crisis for our nation, changing life for nearly every American. The crisis’ magnitude demands a proportional response. To date, Congress has acted with nearly $3 trillion in support to small businesses and hospitals and direct payments to the American public, but clearly more must be done.
Unemployment and food-bank lines have quickly reached Great Depression levels, and small businesses have shuttered, with many quickly hurtling to a point of no return. The virus itself has claimed more lives than American troops lost in the Vietnam War and threatens more without proper testing, protective equipment distribution and tracing.
So I call on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support the Heroes Act — the most significant investment in American communities since the New Deal.
The Heroes Act would not only bolster our immediate responsive capacity, it would also position us well to emerge and prosper after we ultimately beat the virus. Security is the central theme of this legislation. Here are some key ways the bill would secure communities now and for the future and secure public services that have withered under decades of insufficient investment:
Enable us to take coronavirus head-on with over $75 billion toward expanded testing and tracing and fight the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on communities of color in Philadelphia. It would also provide $100 billion to help those on the front lines of our health care institutions to continue their fight.
Address the current and expected long-term need for mental health services through an additional $3 billion. It would also invest over $2 billion in long underfunded state and local public health systems.
Strengthen both Medicaid and Medicare coverage so our seniors and most vulnerable would have the protection they need in these difficult times. It would also extend coverage for people who have lost employer-provided health insurance through no fault of their own.
The Heroes Act would make a transformative investment in our basic necessities. It would:
Provide nearly $1 trillion in immediate support to state and local governments across the nation, including potentially $600 million for Philadelphia, to help close budget chasms that could wipe out critical everyday services such as fire and police protection.
Include over $14 billion to support food access, which would fight hunger and also ripple through the economy supporting jobs and families.
Address a housing crisis for renters and homeowners alike that COVID-19 has exacerbated, particularly for minority communities, with over $175 billion in immediate funds. The bill would also provide $11.5 billion to secure safe, supportive housing for the homeless, including veterans.
Substantially expand the Earned Income Tax Credit program — a proven poverty-reduction tool. The bill would also extend direct stimulus support to Americans through $1,200 per individual tax credits and expanded child-care credits. It would also continue the $600 per week unemployment compensation boost through early 2021 and provide nearly $1 billion to help states process millions of unemployment compensation applications.
As we begin to reopen our economies, the Heroes Act would also enable us to get back to work. It would:
Provide over $15 billion to help public transit systems restore service and account for months of non-existent ridership.
For those who need to continue to stay at home, it would expand broadband access through over $5 billion to close the homework gap and improve residential connectivity.
Provide a long-overdue investment in the professionals who enable parents to work, by creating a child care stabilization fund intended to shore up the child care sector during and after the pandemic.
Recognizing the reality that the virus will likely circulate in our communities for some time, the bill would also extend the Family and Medical Leave Act and institute universal paid sick leave policies across the economy.
For seniors, who spent decades working hard and saving for retirement, the bill would stabilize multi-employer pension funds that have been decimated by market turmoil. We must ensure that our retirees and current essential workers can rely upon this retirement security.
The Heroes Act would also extend small business relief, initiated in the CARES Act, through additional flexibility in use of the Paycheck Protection Program and expanded access to capital through the Small Business Administration.
The act looks toward the future by providing over $100 billion to address our schools’ fiscal crisis, as well as relief and flexibility for higher education students to address ongoing tuition and loan repayment costs.
Finally, the bill would make a big investment in preserving democracy. It would ensure safe and equitable access to the ballot box by making vote-by-mail and early voting universal options for the electorate and provide funding for Election Day infrastructure.
The Heroes Act would invest over $3 trillion in our nation. Some may say we cannot afford this. I believe we can’t afford not to. America has made this kind of investment before — we came out stronger on the other side. In the 1940s, we determined it was critical to take on Nazi oppression and our investment in the war effort temporarily produced higher deficits, as a percentage of gross domestic product, than we would face with full passage of the Heroes Act.
Without this investment, as the Federal Reserve chairman has indicated, we will be mired in years of economic stagnation and community deterioration. The Senate can secure our present and future by joining the House in passing the Heroes Act.