By Bernie Sanders
I don’t have to tell anyone that our country and the world are facing an unprecedented series of crises. We’re dealing with the coronavirus, we’re dealing with a growing economic meltdown that will impact tens of millions of workers in this country, and we’re dealing with a political crisis as well.
The main point to be made is that in this period of crisis it’s imperative that we stand together. Understand that right now throughout this country, there are so many of our people throughout this country wondering what’s going to happen to them.
What happens to people who lose their jobs? What happens to people who worry they have the coronavirus but don’t have the resources to get the test they need, or the treatment they need?
This is a moment that we have got to be working together and going forward together.
What I wanted to do is talk about a series of proposals that we are working on and that we will introduce to the Democratic leadership about how we can best go forward.
I am going to tell you about all of these principles, and then I’m going to ask you to sign our petition to say you support these ideas, and want to see them taken up in Congress.
But it’s also important for me to hear your comments. We need to know what you are experiencing right now. It’s hard to write proper legislation if we are not familiar with the kinds of pain and problems that people across this country are facing.
We want to hear not only your ideas, but for you to talk about your experiences. In every state there is a different level of crisis, in every occupation there is a different level of concern. Please communicate with us by emailing us at email@example.com so we can come up with effective remedies.
So here’s what I think we should do. Read on, give your support, and then let us know what’s happening with you.
Solving the Health Care Crisis
Let’s start with the basics.
We need to make certain that everybody in our country who needs to go to a doctor can get health care they need regardless of their income. In this crisis we must empower Medicare to cover all medical bills during this emergency.
This is not Medicare for All. We can’t pass that right now. But what this does say is if you are uninsured, underinsured, if you have high copayments, high deductibles, or out of pocket expenses, Medicare will cover those expenses so that everybody — regardless of their health care needs, and not just for coronavirus — will get the health care they need. That is what we should be doing in this moment of crisis.
We need to make sure that hospitals have all of the ICU units and ventilators that are needed to respond to this crisis. What the fear is, is that there will be a surge of patients coming into the hospitals and we will not have equipment we need to deal with it. The federal government must work aggressively with the private sector to make sure that this equipment is available to hospitals and the medical community. The government needs to tell the private sector that this is a major priority and to get the job done.
We must also:
- Increase provider capacity. During this crisis, we need to mobilize medical residents, retired medical professionals, and other medical personnel to help us deal with this crisis.
- Implement successful testing models. Our testing capacity and process has been woefully inadequate. We must massively increase the availability of test kits for the coronavirus and the speed at which the tests are processed.
- Use the Defense Production Act to mobilize resources. Under this proposal, we will use existing emergency authority to dramatically scale up production in the United States of critical supplies such as masks, ventilators, and protective equipment for health care workers.
- Utilize the National Guard, the Army Corp of Engineers and other military resources to build mobile hospitals and testing facilities, assist providers, reopen hospitals that have been shut down and expand our health care capacity in at-risk areas.
- Dramatically expand community health centers. Pass emergency funding to dramatically expand access to community health centers which provide primary, dental, and mental health care, as well as low-cost prescription drugs, to nearly 30 million Americans, 63 percent of whom are racial and ethnic minorities.
- Keep health care workers safe. We need to make sure that doctors, nurses and medical professionals have the instructions and personal protective equipment that they need.
Solving the Economic Crisis
We must also respond to the global economic crisis that this pandemic is causing right now.
First and foremost, we must make sure that anyone who has a job right now receives the paychecks they need and does not lose their income. Think about the millions of workers who are being laid off in the tourism industry, the fast food industry, the restaurant industry, the transportation industry.
These are folks that don’t have a lot of money, as you know. Some 40% of the people in this country cannot afford a $400 emergency. So people are sitting out there thinking, “What am I going to do? How am I going to take care of my family?”
That has got to be the major economic priority we address: how do we take care of the working families of this country?
Small and medium sized businesses, especially those in severely impacted industries such as restaurants, bars, and local retail need immediate relief. We must tell these businesses, who are being forced to lay off their entire staff or possibly even shut down through no fault of their own, that we will not allow them to go out of business. The federal government will work with affected businesses to provide direct payroll costs for small and medium sized businesses to keep workers employed until this crisis has passed.
We must provide direct, emergency $2,000 cash payments to every person in America every month for the duration of the crisis. We are likely already in a recession. Workers are losing income while their bills pile up. We must begin issuing cash payments of $2,000 a month for every person in America to provide households with the assistance they need to pay their bills and take care of their families.
It is key that we get this money out and to families as soon as possible, which means we must make the payments universal with little bureaucracy. For those who will not need their payments, we will partner with organizations to take donations from patriotic families who can contribute their payments to fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
We must also do the following to solve the economic crisis we’re facing:
- Expand Unemployment Insurance. We must provide emergency unemployment assistance to anyone who loses their job through no fault of their own. Under this proposal, everyone who loses a job must qualify for unemployment compensation at 100 percent of their prior salary with a cap of $75,000 a year.
- Protect non-traditional workers. In addition, those who depend on tips, gig workers, domestic workers, freelancers, and independent contractors shall also qualify for Unemployment Insurance to make up for the income that they lose during this crisis.
- Guarantee that no one goes hungry. We need to make sure that seniors, people with disabilities and families with children have access to nutritious food. That means expanding the Meals on Wheels program, the school meals programs, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) so that no one goes hungry during this crisis and everyone who cannot leave their home can receive nutritious meals delivered directly to where they live.
- Place an immediate moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, and utility shut-offs, and suspend payment on mortgage loans for primary residencies and utility bills. No one should lose their home during this crisis and everyone must have access to clean water, electricity, heat and air conditioning. And we must restore utility services to any customers who have had their utilities shut off. We must also provide funding for states and localities to provide rental assistance for the duration of the crisis.
- Waive all student loan payments for the duration of the emergency. More than 45 million Americans struggle with $1.6 trillion in student debt. We must lift this burden during the crisis and for one month after. Long-term, we must cancel all student debt and make public colleges, universities, and trade schools tuition free and debt free.
- Construct emergency shelter and utilize empty or vacant lodging. We must ensure the homeless, survivors of domestic violence and college students quarantined off campus are able to receive the shelter, the health care and the nutrition they need and connect those individuals with social services to ensure nobody is left behind. We must also utilize empty hotel beds and other vacant properties to ensure everyone is safely housed during this crisis.
- Use the power of the Federal Reserve to support state and local governments. Through the power granted under section 14(2)(b) of the Federal Reserve Act, the Fed will buy short-term municipal debt securities. This will help stabilize state government finances and provide states and localities the financial support they need to address this health and economic crisis.
- Protect farmers. Suspend all Farm Service Agency loan payments to protect farmers during this crisis, extend crop insurance and emergency loans to all affected farmers, extend rural development loans, and expand the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) to both help alleviate hunger throughout the country and support our farmers during this crisis.
Making Sure Our Response is Not a Money-Making Opportunity for Corporate America
Our response to this health and economic crisis cannot be another money-making opportunity for corporate America and Wall Street. We need to ensure no one is profiting off of the economic pain and suffering of our people in crisis.
- Bail out working people, not corporate executives. Any emergency credit extensions or loans to insolvent companies or industries as a result of this crisis must come with strict protections and benefits for workers, unions, and customers, not no-strings-attached handouts for executives. During this crisis, we will ban stock buybacks and bonuses for executives. We will put conditions on this financial assistance to make sure that any corporation in America that benefits from emergency aid does not lay off workers, pays workers a livable wage, provides equity to the government, puts workers on corporate boards, and does not rip-off consumers.
- Prevent price gouging by pharmaceutical companies. As soon as a coronavirus vaccine is developed it must be sold for free. Further, all prescription drugs that are developed with taxpayer dollars must be sold at a reasonable price. This agency shall use the federal government’s authority to take away patents from pharmaceutical companies that are gouging consumers and allow generic companies to manufacture prescription drugs at a substantially reduced cost. The pharmaceutical industry must be told in no uncertain terms that the medicines that they manufacture for this crisis will be sold at cost. This is not the time for profiteering or price gouging.
- Investigate and prosecute price-gougers and corrupt dealings. This agency will have the authority to crack down and prosecute illegal price gouging and corruption. It shall also conduct an independent and transparent audit of all of the emergency financing programs to make sure that American taxpayer dollars are not wasted.
We Are All In This Together
What this country is experiencing right now is something that we have not experienced in the modern history of this country: a pandemic and an economic crisis, threatening the lives and income of millions of people.
I have the strong belief that if we work together, that if we do not turn to fear and panic, but if we understand that the way we solve this is by going forward as one people, remembering those that are hurting tonight and those that will be hurting in the future.
This is the richest country in the history of the world. This is a country with unbelievable energy, unbelievable talent, and with incredible resources. We can address this crisis and minimize the pain.
Again, I look forward to hearing from you as well. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know what your ideas are and what you’re experiencing — we are here, and we will be reading replies.
Let us go forward together. Thank you.
P.S. You can read our entire response to this crisis on our website, and we invite you to email us at email@example.com with your ideas and experiences.