Will the next coronavirus relief package leave essential workers behind?
Eventually, Congress will pass a new coronavirus relief package because the future of America’s economy and global competitiveness depends on it.
But what will Congress include in the bill, and when will lawmakers pass it? Those are the questions on the minds of workers and business executives alike. Perhaps Congress is overcomplicating its job, especially when poll after poll shows roughly 8 in 10 voters support Congress providing additional coronavirus relief. According to a Morning Consult poll, that figure is even higher when you ask if the public supports providing relief specifically to “essential” workers—first responders, health care providers, grocery workers, food processing and farm employees, transportation and childcare workers.
More than 30 million Americans claimed jobless benefits in mid-July through a variety of programs meant to help make ends meet during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Concurrently, second-quarter GDP contracted 32.9 percent—the worst on record—demonstrating the effects of business closures due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, hunger and food insecurity are on the rise. The Brookings Institution—a nonpartisan think tank—says the number of households reporting that children weren’t getting enough to eat in July was significantly higher than during the Great Recession’s peak.
To combat the worst effects of the pandemic, Congress has approved a total of $3 trillion in the four previous relief bills. Economists agree that additional stimulus is needed to prevent catastrophic fallout. According to a Washington Post survey of 25 economists, “20 urged Congress to pass a [new] stimulus of $2 trillion or more. The others, mostly conservative economists, agreed that Congress needs to act by mid-August. They favored a roughly $1 trillion package.”
However, Congress and the administration continue to disagree on the size and scope of the next relief package. Where can they come together?
Targeted tax relief for essential workers.
Employees working in essential industries are some of the hardest hit workers due to ongoing closures, a rise in coronavirus cases, and the related economic fallout. Since the spring, various members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat, have offered plans and bills to recognize the essential workforce. A handful of proposals have taken hold with widespread bipartisan support, and for good reason: the tax relief is limited to just a subset of the working population deemed essential or “critical infrastructure” industries; it benefits working class Americans; and it has a clear end point. President Trump also endorses tax relief.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Reps. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) and Dwight Evans (D-Pa.) have introduced the most viable bills calling for targeted tax relief to essential workers, including a reprieve from federal income and federal payroll taxes up to a certain amount. Essential workers do their jobs even as they face serious challenges including sick family members, lack of childcare, and transportation challenges. Additional money in the paychecks of essential workers also would flow into the economy, support the creation and delivery of goods and services and, thereby, create jobs for those struggling to find work. That is the goal of stimulus—economic growth and job creation.
What Congress needs to recognize is that the public has already expressed their support for extending tax relief to essential workers. In a recent poll of nearly 2,000 registered voters, conducted by Morning Consult, more than three-quarters of Republican, Democratic and independent voters support extending temporary tax relief to essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic, with support widespread across the country regardless of region, urban or rural residence, and income level.
Putting temporary tax relief for essential workers on the negotiating table shows that our leaders at the highest level of government value and reward work and keeps the door open to fund some level of emergency unemployment benefits to those who have lost a job through no fault of their own. It’s a win for all sides and gives our economy a jolt when we need it most.
Michael Dykes, D.V.M., is president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association in Washington, D.C., which represents the essential workers in the dairy industry.