Coronavirus Aid Package Falls Short. Workers Need More from Congress.

The coronavirus aid package that cleared Congress is just not good enough for public service workers. That’s the takeaway message from AFSCME President Lee Saunders.

Though the version of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that passed Congress on Wednesday “takes important steps” to safeguard public service workers and help working families, “This legislation could have and should have been much stronger.”

“Republicans watered it down substantially, inserting loopholes and caveats to benefit businesses instead of working people,” Saunders said in a statement. “Congress needs to get back to work.”

What do public service workers – child care providersemergency service workers, health care professionals and others on the front lines of the fight to stop the coronavirus pandemic – need and deserve?

“A large stimulus plan that includes a robust expansion of aid to cash-strapped state and local governments, as well as direct financial assistance to all Americans, universal paid leave, a temporary COVID-19 worker safety standard and greatly expanded unemployment insurance to deal with enormous job losses already hitting workers everywhere,” Saunders said.

State and local aid – especially for health care – is especially critical. So are measures aimed at protecting health care personnel and other public service workers who are in harm’s way.

The bill passed Wednesday provides states and Puerto Rico with a 6.2% increase in the federal match for state Medicaid programs. It also gives states an option to expand Medicaid – a health insurance program for low-income Americans and people with disabilities – to cover uninsured individuals, expect for undocumented immigrants.

However, the $36 billion provided for this purpose is woefully inadequate. AFSCME members want Congress to increase the federal Medicaid match to 10% and to provide direct aid to localities.

We also want Congress to require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a coronavirus safety standard for workers at higher risk of exposure. This provision was unnecessarily stripped out of the measure before Congress passed it Wednesday. The OSHA emergency standard must protect public and private sector health care and other workers no matter where they live – even if they live in states lacking OSHA coverage.

AFSCME members also want Congress to provide more respirators to health care workers.