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OPINION

A monthly check would provide economic relief during the coronavirus crisis

Working families — and those forced out of their jobs by the coronavirus — must be able to trust that their government will support them through this economic downturn.

Boxes of food are distributed by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, at a drive-thru distribution near PPG Arena in downtown Pittsburgh, April 10.
Boxes of food are distributed by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, at a drive-thru distribution near PPG Arena in downtown Pittsburgh, April 10.Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Since the coronavirus shut down the US economy in March, about 43 million Americans have filed for unemployment assistance. That means nearly 1 in 4 Americans has lost a job in the past three months, with a disproportionate number of Black and Latinx women affected. We are in the midst of the worst unemployment rate on record — an astounding 13.3 percent — at levels we have not seen since the Great Depression. We must act and act fast to provide relief for Americans whose lives have been upended by a global pandemic and a total failure of leadership in the White House.

The coronavirus has exposed many of the social inequities that have long existed in our communities. From disparities in who has access to testing and treatment, to who has the ability to work from home, this crisis is a glaring reminder that we have a long way to go in this country when it comes to social and economic justice.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or “CARES Act,” that Congress passed in March provided $1,200 cash payments to most Americans. In the nearly three months since that legislation became law, the economic crisis has deepened as rent and bill payments have piled up for families across Massachusetts. Simply put, $1,200 was not nearly enough to keep families on their feet during this crisis. A single check is not sufficient for the millions of households that are struggling with the health and economic crisis we face. Americans need more than just one payment.

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That’s why I joined Senators Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders to introduce the Monthly Crisis Support Act, which would provide recurring monthly direct cash payments so that Americans have the support they need to get through this crisis. Working families — and those forced out of their jobs by the coronavirus — must be able to trust that their government is there for them through this economic downturn.

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This bill would provide a direct cash payment of $2,000 each month to individuals with an income below $120,000 until three months after the coronavirus pandemic ends, as well as provide $2,000 for up to three dependents per family, regardless of age. Every US resident receives a payment to ensure that no one falls through the cracks.

We have redefined what it means to be an “essential worker” in this country. Grocery store employees, public transportation workers, gas station attendants, sanitation workers — all of these people, many of whom are people of color, are on the front lines every day despite the health and safety risks. As these front-line workers put their lives at risk, we are too often leaving them vulnerable not only to the coronavirus, but to economic uncertainty as well.

We are witnessing the Trump administration downplay this crisis — hoping that it will “miraculously” disappear. This willful ignorance has real-world consequences. Not only to public health and safety — but to our financial stability.

During the worst economic crisis in a generation, we must protect the most vulnerable among us with a safety net. My legislation forbids debt collectors from seizing the rebate payments and ensures that homeless and foster youth receive payments as well. We can accomplish this by using the data from low-income support programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Supplemental Security Income, Medicare, and housing assistance programs. Immigrant families could also access cash assistance through their ITIN number.

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We have seen the photos of the long lines of people waiting at their local food pantries in communities like Chelsea, Springfield, and Lynn. Many have lost their jobs and have nowhere else to turn. And many families are experiencing food insecurity for the first time in their lives. Our families and neighbors are dying in the communities we call home, while people across our state simultaneously lose their jobs and health care.

In April, residents waited in line at a pop-up food pantry at Bosson Park in Chelsea.
In April, residents waited in line at a pop-up food pantry at Bosson Park in Chelsea.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

A Harvard University study released last month showed that the mortality rates have surged in Massachusetts cities and towns with larger concentrations of poverty, people of color, and crowded housing — mortality rates are roughly 40 percent higher in cities with people of color compared with towns with smaller minority populations. And with a presidential administration that prioritizes corporations over working people, the lack of response from the White House has only furthered the devastation in our communities.

Providing recurring monthly payments is the most direct and efficient mechanism for delivering economic relief to those most vulnerable in this crisis, particularly low-income families, immigrant communities, and our gig and service workers. Payments under our proposal would provide nearly $600 billion per month to American households, more than twice as much as the CARES Act. When 40 percent of households making less than $40,000 a year have lost their jobs during this crisis, the question is not about whether America can afford to do this. The question is whether we can afford not to.

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Senator Edward J. Markey is the junior US senator for Massachusetts.