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AFSCME President: COVID-19 Relief Bill is a Good Down Payment

Photo Credit: Getty / Patrick Foto
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By AFSCME Staff ·

The $2.2 trillion coronavirus aid package poised to clear Congress is a good down payment on what the nation needs to pull through this crisis. But public service workers on the front lines, fighting the pandemic, still lack masks and other protective equipment and are demanding that the White House act, AFSCME President Lee Saunders said today.

 “Public service workers continue to lead us through this national crisis, confronting the most difficult possible conditions imaginable, doing life-and-death work. But they do not have the critical tools they need, nor the economic support required,” he said in a statement.

Saunders called it “appalling and gut-wrenching” that health care professionals, park attendants, corrections officers and others are fighting on the front lines without basic safety gear. For instance, Saunders said, nurses are using garbage bags because they don’t have masks.

“It’s nothing short of sickening that President Trump is … refusing to accelerate production of protective equipment by exercising his powers under the Defense Production Act,” he said.

The relief bill approved by the Senate late Wednesday “provides a good down payment to fund the front lines,” he said. “It fast-tracks personal protective equipment for first responders; it provides direct assistance to state and local governments; and it provides a safety net for all Americans affected by this pandemic.”

On Friday, the House of Representatives is expected to approve the Senate bill.

AFSCME members pushed Congress to include worker-friendly provisions in the bill, according to Saunders.

Those include $150 billion in direct assistance to state and local governments so they can rebuild public services; a sizable investment in K-12 schools, higher education, transportation, housing, public health, first responders and a host of other public services; a critical extension in federally funded Unemployment Insurance benefits; and oversight measures to prevent federal support for businesses from becoming “a vehicle for crony capitalism.”

“The bill includes these provisions because public service workers raised our voices, demanding the respect we deserve and the support our communities need. By contrast, [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell tried unsuccessfully to jam through a bill over the weekend that was little more than a corporate bailout,” Saunders said.

But more help will surely be needed soon, Saunders predicted. He pointed to the staggering economic toll that the pandemic is extracting, highlighting the record 3.3 million jobless claims filed last week as a harbinger of more to come.

“Public service workers will continue to do whatever the moment demands,” Saunders said. “Facing overwhelming demand and the highest possible stakes, we will put our communities first as always. All we ask is that we get the resources we need to get the job done. Congress must continue to fund the front lines.”

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