Don't Blame the Poor During the Time of COVID-19

As provisions of the CARES Act that kept people affected by COVID-19 and families afloat are set to expire, the anger towards those who reaped those benefits are misplaced.

Don't Blame the Poor During the Time of COVID-19

Photo Credit: David Joles/Star Tribune/AP

​On July 25th, some of the crucial provisions of the CARES Act passed by Congress are set to expire. The $600 unemployment benefit (expires on July 31st, but most state payrolls will not be able to process another payment) and rent moratoriums will go away.  Senate Republicans are now starting negotiations like a college kid who started their finals research paper two days before winter break.  If people no longer have money to spend, many things in the economy will go sour with it.

Let’s remember that half of U.S. households lost income during the pandemic. About 40 million Americans have either been laid off or lost their job. While the unemployment rate hovers around 11%, it’s higher in big cities and is at a higher rate among minorities. With states rolling back their reopening plans due to the surge of COVID cases, Americans must receive more help. Canada has been paying unemployed citizens $2,000 a month. Americans got a one-time $1,200 payment - some who haven’t received it still or not eligible. U.S. senators such as Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders have introduced similar legislation. Do you mean to tell me that the richest country in the world can’t assure that for their citizens during a time of unprecedented crisis? 12 million people stand to be evicted if these protections are not passed in time.

Some people may not know what was in the House-passed Heroes Act, so let me break  down some aspects that would be extremely helpful:

  1. The bill includes $200 billion for hazard pay. Essential workers making less than $200,000 annually would be eligible to receive as much as $10,000 total, while those making more than $200,000 annually would be eligible to receive an additional $5,000 total.
  2. An extension of the $600 unemployment benefit until January 2021. Also, this allows independent contractors, part-time workers, and self-employed individuals to apply for unemployment.
  3. $100 billion in rental assistance. Tenants unable to pay would be given vouchers to cover rent and utilities. It would also extend the eviction suspensions up to a year. $75 billion would be given to mortgage assistance. This would prevent any foreclosures or defaults.
  4. Tax credits to small businesses

That’s not even to mention the money for more COVID testing/tracing, voting protections, expanding paid medical leave, and changes to private student loan debt.

If you’re holding some contempt that people who have either been laid off or terminated because of the pandemic are making more than on unemployment - ask this question instead. Why did it take Congress passing the CARES act provision for many to finally have a livable wage? Why has the federal minimum wage stagnated to the point where the U.S. has not kept up with a living wage since the 1960s? A living wage for a family of four is about $16.54. The poverty line is $23,850 - where most minimum wage workers make $7.25 an hour or $15,080 still. The anger is being displaced towards the wrong people.

Why not be angry at companies like Amazon, Kroger, and Walmart who have all suspended their hazard pay benefits to their employees? Many of the unemployment benefits by themselves are not able to sustain families for long periods of job loss. In southern states like Alabama and Florida, weekly benefits max out at $275 weekly. There’s no way a family can live on that. That’s not to mention that most health care benefits are tied to employment. Families will have to incur that cost. If they cannot get a special exception through the health care exchange, they will have to pay COBRA which is extremely costly.

The fact that lawmakers have sat on any extended benefits for Americans for three months is already damming enough. Coronavirus isn’t slowing down anytime soon. The U.S. hit 62,788 yesterday with more than 1,000 deaths in a day. Even The President himself who somehow still affirms that the virus will ‘disappear’ acknowledges that this will get worse before it gets better. It didn’t have to be this way. Now the harsh realities are here, we need to do a better job in looking outside of ourselves and not punch down at those we deem below us. It makes no sense in a country where there is so much to give, so many people stand to lose everything.

Take a look at the stories in this Reddit thread. Some people are getting paid a livable wage for the first time in their lives and are happy. Don’t we want people to be happy and able to enjoy things? Families can have an emergency budget. For once, people can put effort into relationships they care about and hobbies that they love the most. You want a workforce that is engaged and rested. Somewhere along the way, we associated pain as an acceptable part of labor. It’s not that people don’t want to work - it’s that they don’t want to work for pennies in a world that only measures your output with no upward mobility. Why does having a job always come with the incurred cost of unhappiness, burn out, and physical and mental stagnation?

What is the use of amassing the wealth of Jeff Bezos if you can’t help people along the way? Complaints about workplace conditions at Amazon are still prevalent to this day and he has more than enough money to change these things. ​See, because, in America, we all have aspirations to get at the top of the mountain. In reaching that height, we don’t want anybody to share the view. There’s enough room for everybody to see the sunrise. Other people being able to live comfortably doesn’t make anybody else’s life anymore insignificant. Everything and everyone is connected. The minute that Americans realize this is the minute that we can work to make things better for all of us.