Sanders Unveils Blank-Check Proposal for Pandemic Relief

BOSTON (CN) — Proposing a new Coronavirus relief package, Senator Bernie Sanders called Friday for a guarantee that nobody in the U.S. loses a paycheck; the suspension of payments for rent, mortgages and student loans; and for all Americans to receive an additional $2,000 a month.

The underdog presidential candidate called his proposal “the boldest piece of legislation ever written in modern history.” In the ongoing Democratic primary, Sanders trails former Vice President Joe Biden in delegates and has about a 20-point poll deficit nationally. He is also behind in Wisconsin, where the race is set, at least for now, to proceed as scheduled on April 7.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders I-Vt., speaks at a campaign event in Tacoma, Wash., Monday, Feb. 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Unlike the $2 trillion package passed by Congress with the aim of keeping the economy afloat, the package Sanders unveiled Friday contains no help for businesses and focuses mainly on aiding individuals affected by the crisis. Also lacking is a price tag.

Key components include:

  • Guaranteeing full paychecks to every worker in the U.S. throughout the crisis, and retroactive reimbursement for anyone who has already lost a job.
  • An additional $2,000 monthly payment to everyone in the U.S., including undocumented immigrants, for the duration of the crisis.
  • Guaranteed medical and sick leave for all Americans.
  • Extra hazard pay and paid child care for essential workers.
  • Having Medicare pay all health expenses for all Americans and any undocumented immigrants.
  • A moratorium on evictions, foreclosures and utility shutoffs.
  • Canceling student loan payments for the duration of the crisis.
  • A four-month suspension of rent, mortgage, consumer and medical debt payments. These payments would not simply be deferred and would not be collectible at the end of the four months.
  • An expansion of food stamps; related programs for women, infants and children; meals on wheels and school lunches.

It’s not clear exactly how Sanders’ proposal to make sure nobody loses a paycheck would work.

Sanders said “an important precedent” for his proposal was the provision in the earlier relief package that gave federal grants to airlines “for the sole purpose of maintaining the paychecks and benefits of some 2 million workers in that industry through September 30th.” But Sanders didn’t specifically call for the federal government to provide grants to every business in the country, nor did he explain how the plan would work for self-employed individuals, independent contractors, or those in the “gig” economy with fluctuating incomes.

“We will definitely need another package,” Daniel Gitterman, chair of public policy at UNC-Chapel Hill, said in an interview. “It’s hard to predict how long this will last and how much deficit spending Congress will tolerate, but there is not doubt we will need to do more.”

Gitterman was dubious, however, about the chances of the Sanders proposal.

“There will be more bipartisan support to ask employers to step up voluntarily,” said Gitterman, the author of a book on federal programs for low-income working families. “Paid leave and keeping folks on payroll will be viewed as mandates on business.

“I think you would get the most bipartisan support for additional tax relief to families. For those workers who are still working, maybe payroll tax relief could help or an expanded EITC payment.”

The Sanders proposal also includes provisions designed to help with the medical aspects of the crisis, including $600 billion in direct aid to cities and states and an expanded use of the Defense Production Act for ventilators, personal protective equipment and other medical supplies.

“There is little doubt that we are facing an economic crisis that could be even worse than the Great Depression,” Sanders said. “We must make sure that every worker in America continues to receive their paycheck during this crisis and we must provide immediate financial relief to everyone in this country.”

As for the $2,000-per-month payments, Sanders said they should go to “every person in the country” including undocumented immigrants, the homeless, people who haven’t filed taxes, and people without a bank account. He provided no details, however, as to how such people would be identified or how the payments would be made.

Sanders did not specify how hazard pay should be calculated or how child care should be provided consistent with social-distancing requirements. And he did not say how it would be determined when the crisis was over such that benefits lasting for the duration of the crisis would cease.

The proposal includes endorsements from a number of progressive groups including Justice Democrats, Common Defense, People’s Action, the Center for Popular Democracy, Make the Road and Mijente.

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