The coronavirus pandemic has exposed cracks in our economic, health and political systems and shown how much work needs to be done to prepare us for and protect us from the threats of the 21st century. Our responses moving forward must be focused on both safety and equity.

Short-Term Plan

In the immediate future, Congress needs to focus on taking action that secures our economy, protects our workers, invests in our democracy, and rescues our state and local governments. Here is what the next congressional package should, at a minimum, include:

  • Significant Funding for State and Local Governments: Kentucky is facing a potential $1.1 billion budget shortfall next year that will hurt public employees like teachers and firefighters, decrease investment in our infrastructure, and lead to cuts in essential social services such as health care. Many states are facing a similar situation, and without an infusion of support for state and local governments from the federal government, we could lose 4 million jobs nationwide.
  • Aid for Schools: For our students, especially the most vulnerable in our country, online learning has led to significant losses academically. The federal government needs to prioritize equipping schools with the infrastructure changes (e.g. HVAC systems), PPE and strategic support needed to potentially reopen this fall, while local districts should be able to make a choice about whether to do so based on public health guidance and the state of the pandemic on the ground. If COVID has made anything clear, it’s that students also need access to quality broadband. The federal government should redouble its commitment to that effort so that if online learning must continue, students have the resources needed.
  • Individual Support: There needs to be another stimulus check to those who need it, protections for renters and a continued boost to unemployment insurance. The reality is, there aren’t enough jobs right now, and we need to help people who cannot find them pay rent and put food on the table.
  • Protections for Workers: Mitch McConnell has said his non-negotiable in the next relief bill is to make sure companies are not liable if they force workers to go back to work before it is safe or without proper safety measures in place and the workers get sick. This idea is misguided. Workers need to know our legal protections won’t be taken away when they’re needed most.
  • Safeguards for Democracy: The federal government should make sure every state has what it needs to set up safe and secure vote-by-mail systems. No one should have to choose between exercising their right to vote and protecting their health. While we are at it, we should invest in our postal service to ensure it can continue to serve Americans all over and facilitate our elections.
  • Expanded Health Care Access: The federal government should immediately open the Affordable Care Act exchanges and lower the Medicare age to 60 so that we can get as many people insured as possible as quickly as possible, while premium caps should be put in place to ensure Americans do not pay for this pandemic on the back end.
  • Test-and-Trace Now: It’s critical that our country be able to test-and-trace individuals who have the virus so that we can shut down spaces when needed, alert exposed individuals so they can quarantine and know the state of the pandemic at all times. The federal government needs to provide each state the funds and support required to test-and-trace its population.

Long-Term Plan

The surges in Florida, Texas, California and many other states across the country have made it clear that the coronavirus will be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future. To allow Americans to live their lives to the fullest in the months and years to come while protecting each other’s health, we need to invest in a variety of strategies.

  • A Public Option: Our government should create a generous public option that, for the duration of the pandemic, people are automatically enrolled in if they lose their employer-based health insurance or if they are below 200% of the federal poverty line. Those who are below 200% of the poverty line would owe no premiums, and no one on the plan would pay deductibles. We cannot allow people without work to go without health care, too.
  • A New CCC: In the wake of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps to both provide jobs and revitalize the country’s environment. Now, we need a new version of the CCC committed to public health, testing-and-tracing and offering other infrastructure support that states need to keep the pandemic under control. We have a large number of unemployed people and a crisis that needs their help.
  • A Free Vaccine: For too long, our government has funded Big Pharma’s research only for Big Pharma to turn around and charge exorbitant prices. When it comes to the coronavirus, we must guarantee that the vaccine, once developed and tested, will be free and available to every American. Without that, our population won’t be safe.

Preventing the Next Pandemic

This pandemic has highlighted how the world has changed, and we need to invest in our country in a way that guarantees that when another virus inevitably strikes, our country is prepared. This effort will be an ongoing one, but there are some obvious places to start:

  • 9-11 Style Commission: We need to ask ourselves, how did we get here? We have the best experts in the world, and we are the richest nation, but our country has arguably the worst trajectory among wealthy nations, and, as of now, close to a quarter of the world’s deaths. Our government needs to assess the failures of the U.S. government in our response so that we can guarantee the next response does not repeat these errors.
  • Investing in Preparedness: At the beginning of this pandemic, many states didn’t have necessary equipment like ventilators and personal protective gear that front-line workers needed. This is unacceptable. Just like we have oil reserves and stockpiles of key defense materials, we need to guarantee our national stockpile of key medical equipment is full and able to help the whole nation at all times. We also need to invest in manufacturing our own key medical supplies. When it comes to national security, we cannot put big corporations’ desires to save money sending work overseas to come before the health and safety of Americans.
  • Funding Public Health: Our government has also underfunded public health at the NIH and CDC for sometime now, and it’s clearly time to change that. We need to invest in research into diseases and infrastructure to respond to them. If we are spending over $700 billion on national defense, we need to make sure some of that money is flowing to the organizations, people and research that keep us safe from diseases.
  • Removing Public Health Appointees from the Political Process: The chair of the Federal Reserve does not serve “at the pleasure of the president” so that Americans can trust the decisions that person makes and the information shared are nonpartisan. We need to adopt a national system of nonpolitical appointee leadership for public health who has dependable, real-time data that the American public can count on and believe in and who does not need to fear reprisal if they disagree with those who initially appointed them. Our health is too precious for it to be exposed to the whims and polarization of our political system.

How You Can Help

Commonwealth, Common Health

Our Commonwealth, Common Health initiative aims to help our communities during this difficult time by helping at-risk Kentuckians safely access food and household supplies and by supporting local food banks.

Volunteer to Help Neighbors in Need

The Commonwealth, Common Health online portal matches healthy Kentuckians looking for a way to serve with vulnerable people in our communities who need help accessing household necessities.

Anyone who is over 18, has a valid driver’s license and meets other background requirements can sign up to match with community members who are over 55, immunocompromised, or living with someone who is immunocompromised, to help them acquire food and other necessities. Get more information or volunteer for the program here.

Donate to the Food Bank Relief Fund

The Commonwealth, Common Health Food Bank Relief Fund supports food banks across the state, many of which are struggling to meet increased needs while facing volunteer shortages due to social distancing requirements. Many food banks are no longer able to accept food donations from the community due to health concerns, so financial donations are crucial right now.

The fund is operated by the Blue Grass Community Foundation, which manages over 700 funds for charitable giving. All donations made to this fund will go toward this initiative. Donate to the fund here.

On Duty with Amy McGrath

In her podcast, On Duty with Amy McGrath, Amy talks with Kentuckians about the biggest issues facing the commonwealth right now, including COVID-19, and how we can tackle them together. The episodes explore issues like leadership and community service during the COVID-19 pandemic; the skyrocketing price of prescription drugs and the impact of COVID-19 on families’ health care; and the need to support and fund programs for victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence and stalking. They include information on how you can help in your community. Check out the podcast here or on your favorite podcast platform.

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