The coronavirus pandemic ravaging our nation is impacting all of us, but not equally. Seniors and people with disabilities are most vulnerable to COVID-19, the disease caused by the pandemic. Without targeted relief, these groups will continue to suffer immensely in the coming months and years.

Seniors and people with disabilities need immediate assistance, but Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSouth Carolina Senate adds firing squad as alternative execution method Ex-Trump aide Pierson won't run for Dallas-area House seat House Oversight panel reissues subpoena for Trump's accounting firm MORE has now vowed that they won’t get any — unless Congress bows to his demand to cut Social Security’s payroll tax.

Payroll tax cuts waste money, delivering the wealthy and powerful the largest cuts while providing nothing to those who need it most, as this linked chart reveals. They are slow and inefficient. But they do reduce Social Security’s dedicated funding, a longstanding right-wing ideological goal. That presumably is why Trump is insisting on them.

ADVERTISEMENT

Not only must the next coronavirus relief package from Congress reject calls to include a cut to Social Security’s dedicated revenue, it must prioritize seniors and people with disabilities by protecting and expanding our Social Security system, eradicating the crisis in our nation’s nursing homes, and making coronavirus treatments (including an eventual vaccine) available to all.

Protect and Expand Social Security

There is no better way to get aid to people who need it, ensure seniors and people with disabilities have the resources to stay at home, and address the long-simmering retirement income crisis (now exacerbated by the pandemic) than by expanding Social Security and other benefits for seniors and people with disabilities. Several visionary lawmakers have introduced plans to do just that.

In the House, Rep. John Larson John Barry LarsonCOVID-19 damage to Social Security to extend beyond pandemic It's time for a grand agreement on Social Security What we need to do next to defeat COVID and unify the country MORE (D-Conn.), chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee, has introduced the Emergency Social Security Benefits Improvement Act. This legislation would increase benefits for every Social Security beneficiary, provide an additional increase for low-income beneficiaries, and ensure benefits for grandfamilies, along with improved benefits for widow(er)s and students.

In the Senate, Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOvernight Health Care: Biden says US will have enough vaccine for all adults by end of May | Biden calls on all states to vaccinate teachers by the end of March | Texas, Mississippi lift mask mandates Biden picks for financial agencies offer preview of regulatory agenda Becerra tells Warren he will do 'thorough review' of executive actions on drug prices MORE (D-Mass.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenBiden coronavirus relief bill tests narrow Democratic majority OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 | Kerry presses oil companies to tackle climate change | Biden delays transfer of sacred lands for copper mine FDR would love the Jobs for Economic Recovery Act MORE (D-Ore.) have a proposal to send an additional $200 month to all Social Security beneficiaries (as well as those receiving Supplemental Security Income, Veterans’ Pensions, and Railroad Retirement Benefits) for the duration of the coronavirus crisis. This plan has the support of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as well as presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

ADVERTISEMENT

In addition to expanding Social Security’s modest benefits, Congress must provide additional funding for the Social Security Administration. Seniors and people with disabilities need the highest quality service during this difficult time.

With offices closed to the public and many people unable to access the internet, it is critical that the Social Security Administration get the resources and mandate they need to eliminate the long hold times on the agency’s 1-800 number. This is critical to address immediately, because of the haphazard and negligent way that the IRS has handled information dissemination about seniors and people with disabilities’ critical benefits and economic impact payments.

Investigate, Mitigate, And Eventually Eradicate the Crisis in Our Nation’s Nursing Homes

Nursing homes are currently experiencing unfathomable levels of illness and death. Nearly 12,000 coronavirus deaths have been linked to nursing homes. Congress must step in to investigate the reason for this tragic outcome, and mitigate the problems immediately.

We need national nursing home guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and then Congress must provide the resources to carry out those guidelines, including guaranteeing free testing kits for workers and residents. Patient discharge guidelines should be clarified so families can plan at-home care. Congress must ensure residents are not at risk for neglect or abuse due to the elimination of in-person inspections.

ADVERTISEMENT

All these priorities and more are covered by Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyHouse Democrats press Facebook on role as a 'breeding ground for polarization' Facebook, Google, Twitter CEOs to testify at House hearing on misinformation Democrats introduce measure to boost privacy, security of health data during pandemic MORE’s (D-Ill.) The Quality Care for Nursing Home Residents During COVID-19 Act, and every member of the House and Senate should support it.

Ensure Treatments and Vaccines are Available to Everyone

Ultimately, the only way to keep seniors and people with disabilities safe is to end the coronavirus pandemic. To do that, we must ensure that once a vaccine is developed, it is available to every person who needs one globally. Our country was a global leader in the eradication of polio and smallpox. We must do the same for the coronavirus.

Congress should follow the leadership of Reps. Schakowsky, Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioDemocrats offer bills to boost IRS audits of rich, corporations House Democrats call on Biden to fill Postal Service Board vacancies to pave way for ousting DeJoy House Democrats' draft coronavirus relief legislation includes B for U.S. airlines MORE (D-Ore.), Rosa DeLauroRosa DeLauroPro-Choice Caucus asks Biden to remove abortion fund restrictions from 2022 budget Key Democrat unveils plan to restore limited earmarks Acting chief acknowledges police were unprepared for mob MORE (D-Conn.) and Lloyd DoggettLloyd Alton DoggettHouse panel advances portion of relief package that includes ,400 checks Democrats urge repeal of business loss tax breaks in relief package Pediatrician killed in hostage situation at Texas medical center MORE (D-Texas), who have laid out three principles on coronavirus treatments and vaccines.

Firstly, pharmaceutical manufacturers should not be granted exclusivity for any coronavirus vaccine, drug, or other therapeutic—whether it has been developed with U.S. taxpayer dollars and publicly funded, or not.

Second, pharmaceutical corporations must not be allowed to sell any coronavirus vaccine, drug or therapeutic at an unreasonable price, whether or not it has been developed with U.S. taxpayer dollars.

Third, for all coronavirus vaccines, drugs, or therapeutics, pharmaceutical manufacturers must publicly report their total expenditures so that it is transparent how much was spent on research and development, and how much on marketing.

Economic security for seniors and people with disabilities has never been more important. It is clear we will not see any leadership from the White House. Only congressional action can alleviate the pain that individuals and families are experiencing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This moment in our country is historic. If the next legislative package is one that truly meets this moment, it will save the lives of untold numbers of seniors and people with disabilities, and set the foundation for our nation’s recovery.

Alex Lawson is executive director of Social Security Works.