We are facing a challenge unlike any our country has ever faced. The coronavirus shock could claim thousands of Minnesota jobs, not to mention those directly affected by the illness and the health care workers putting their lives on the line to attend to their needs. It is deferring dreams, robbing Americans of their savings, and putting at risk millions of families’ ability to make ends meet. But amid the hardship, there is hope.
At the local, state and federal level, our country is responding with an audacity we haven’t seen in decades.
As our state and local leaders take bold measures here in Minnesota, I am working to make sure the federal government’s response meets the scale of the challenge before us.
This month, I authored the MEALS Act, a bill to ensure that children whose school is canceled due to the coronavirus can continue to receive federally subsidized meals. Tens of thousands of Minnesota kids receive free or reduced-price lunches at their public schools. For many kids, it is the only meal they get each day. In the wake of school closures, districts like Minneapolis are providing these meals for pickup free of charge. But we need to make sure this is happening across the country.
My bill allows the federal government to grant waivers to schools that close so that they can make sure their students are fed — without worrying about cost. Thanks to our team’s hard work, it was included in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act — a comprehensive bill that the House and Senate passed and is now the law of the land. This bill also included much-needed funding for testing, unemployment insurance and emergency paid leave.
But it’s not enough. As the economic consequences of this crisis deepen, we must provide immediate assistance to all Americans. On Thursday, I introduced a package of bills to swiftly bring vital economic assistance to families and small businesses, and to ensure that those funds are not going to large corporations. The reinvestment to ensure a livable income for every family (RELIEF) bill would universally guarantee a monthly payment of $1,000 for every adult over the age of 18 and $500 for every child residing in the United States through the end of the pandemic. It’s exciting to see politicians on both sides of the aisle embracing cash assistance, but we must make sure those funds benefit everyone equally and continue until this crisis is over.
In an effort to help businesses that have been forced to close and lay off their workers, the assistance for businesses and local economies act (ABLE) would require the federal government to fully compensate all small businesses disproportionately affected by coronavirus — including all wages, maintenance costs and other necessary capital payments. This would include the self-employed and independent contractors by covering all their lost earnings.
Lastly, we must make sure relief is going to those who need it. The Trump administration is reportedly considering a bail out of the oil industry in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. This is unacceptable. According to Oil Change International, the United States already subsidizes fossil fuel exploration and production at a rate of $20.5 billion annually. My bill would prohibit the Trump administration from slashing royalty rates for fossil fuel corporations and giving away billions of dollars to wel-established and highly profitable polluters.
This package addresses three goals we must abide by in any recovery package.
We need to put money in the hands of the American people now.
We need to protect small businesses and slow job losses now.
We must make sure that we are not funding giveaways to corporations that do not benefit the American people.
This isn’t all. I led a letter Friday requesting a comprehensive plan to prevent an outbreak of the virus in immigration detention facilities — and a suspension of interior enforcement and deportation in order to prevent its spread. I joined a letter calling for an immediate end to foreclosures and evictions — and am joining a bill led by U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., to address homelessness.
People experiencing homelessness are extremely vulnerable to contracting and spreading the virus, and more likely to have underlying health conditions that would put their lives at risk. As more Americans are impacted by the economic downturn, we need to ensure that every American has their human right to safe and affordable housing guaranteed.
It is also important that we as policymakers are responsive to those directly affected by this crisis in our districts. My office is continuing to fight for the Fifth District and offer constituent services during this time. So if Fifth District residents are having issues with unemployment insurance, travel, immigration or anything else, we are ready to help. We have set up a site for constituents to access with additional resources and information during the crisis.
This crisis is testing our state in ways unseen in decades. Leaders at all levels are being forced to find bold solutions to address the challenge before us. Measures that were deemed radical just weeks ago are now seen as necessary to confront the crisis. But our nation has faced such tests before, and prevailed.
Ilhan Omar represents Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District in the U.S. House.