An offering of substantial, pragmatic, and imperative reform proposals in response to largest economic stimulus in American history, one that fails to meet the needs of the masses…
by: Frederick Foote
The federal government responded to the coronavirus public health crisis that has contributed to economic devastation and social distress with a package of economic stimulus that fails to address critical issues that contribute to our community’s health problems. The Great Depression spawned programs to advance public welfare and ameliorate or prevent future depressions. These programs included Social Security, which provided income for older workers, The Works Progress Administration (WPA), which gave jobs to millions, and the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation that provided long-term, low-interest loans to prevent home foreclosures. The New Deal also created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), providing government insurance for bank deposits and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to protect investors from stock-market manipulations, while the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was established to promote union growth. From the 1930s until today, some of these New Deal programs continue to provide public benefits that laid the foundation for economic recovery and working-class opportunities. Similarly, this current stimulus should recognize existing social and economic inequalities and use this disaster to correct these issues.
The current stimulus program passed by Congress on March 25th, 2020 provides the bulk of its benefits to business and industry. While failing to meet the needs of the masses, it also replicates the very systems and relationships that have contributed to our ineffective response to our current public health crisis. The United States’ stimulus programs should, at minimum, address the following public health issues that are essential to our recovery and continued good health:
Discretionary Federal Spending and Public Health Priorities
More than half of all discretionary federal government spending goes toward the military, yet the military cannot defeat, treat, or protect us from the coronavirus. Our stimulus package should redirect spending to recognize this reality. Our public health systems need national leadership, funding, and be structured so that every resident has access to adequate and free health care. The current crisis illustrates graphically how a healthy nation is essential to a healthy society and economy. A cabinet-level, National Department of Public Health, directing and overseeing our public health efforts, is essential.
Corporate Tax Reform
Corporate taxes supply about seven percent of the federal revenue. Many of the most valuable and largest corporations pay no income taxes. The stimulus package needs to change tax laws to have all corporations pay a fair share of the tax burden. This increased federal revenue could handily underwrite Medicare For All.
Tax Reform on the Wealthiest One Percent
The stimulus legislation needs to end loopholes and rules that allow the super-wealthy to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Instead, the current stimulus provides more tax advantages to the super-rich. Again, this increased federal revenue could help fund a Medicare For All system.
The stimulus laws should establish a guaranteed income for all. Unemployment promotes public health issues such as mental health illness, drug abuse, domestic violence, and homelessness.
Homelessness is a public health threat. The stimulus package should fund the elimination of homelessness. The United States Departments of Public Health and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development should have this as one of its highest priorities.
The incarceration of millions of inmates in crowded conditions without adequate health care is a clear and imminent threat to the health of the general public as well as prisoners and staff. The stimulus package should mandate the immediate reduction of prison and jail populations by at least half and the eventual elimination of incarceration as a form of punishment or rehabilitation. There, too, should be funding to transition those released into employment, education, and training.
International Health Cooperation and Coordination Treaties
Communicable diseases anywhere in the world may represent a threat to the populations everywhere. The United States should take a leadership role in enacting treaties that promote the immediate reporting of disease and other health threats to the United Nations and require the release of accurate real-time reports on illness or health threat progress. The United States must also lead in complying with existing health treaty requirements. These treaties should mandate that international health care inspectors be allowed on-site to validate reported data and undoubtedly, the United States should increase funding for international disease responses, research, and care.
Without these kinds of substantial reforms, we may repeatedly reenact this current crisis until we succumb to our repeated ineptitude.