Rampant economic inequality in the United States demands structural solutions centered on racial justice. Income inequality and unequal access to jobs, health care, and benefits disproportionately harm Blacks, Indigenous people and people of color. Racial wage inequality already costs the US economy about $ 2.3 trillion a year.
President Biden has said his administration will prioritize reducing racial, gender and wage gaps. Biden and House Democrats have pushed forward the demand to increase the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour and plan to collect and release data on wage inequality. These minimal measures, while necessary, will only help those who are on the margins of their immediate survival.
We must root out systemic racial and economic inequalities. It starts by expanding access to benefits like Medicaid and SNAP (food stamps), ending the vicious debt circles that trap people in poverty, and designing economic reforms with low-wage workers in mind.
In their first 100 days, the Biden-Harris team can prioritize four key economic justice solutions:
Expand access to Medicaid, SNAP, and other benefits. The millions of low-income Americans struggling financially in the midst of the pandemic deserve a meaningful social safety net. Yet delivery systems are riddled with technical barriers that prevent people from accessing assistance. Biden administration can reduce racial disparities in access to health care by quickly approving pending Medicaid waivers that extend postpartum care to a full year after pregnancy ends to curb rising mortality kindergarten, especially in communities of color.
Currently, 38 million people rely on SNAP (food stamps) to survive. The pandemic and the economic crisis have food insecurity has more than doubled since 2019, with one in four households not knowing where their next meal will come from. The Trump administration’s restrictions on SNAP eligibility have exacerbated food insecurity, and in much of the country, social service offices remain closed. The Biden administration can roll back restrictions to make SNAP accessible to more families nationwide, change guidelines to make SNAP emergency benefits available to all SNAP beneficiaries, and ensure that local offices faced with changes related to the pandemic do not create new barriers to accessing SNAP. advantages. The 15% increase in SNAP benefits through September 2021 included in the President’s COVID rescue program will only help people who are able to apply and whose SNAP eligibility is determined. And, the White House must push Congress to make food stamps accessible to everyone, regardless of their immigration status.
Protect the rights of low-wage workers. Who these days are mainly black and Latin women and “essential” workers. Democrats in the Senate should immediately raise the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour and remove all exemptions, including exemptions for farm laborers, domestic workers and tipped employees. These exemptions are historically rooted in slavery and continue to exclude low-wage workers from wage reform.
The Biden administration is expected to pursue new legislation to extend health and safety protections to low-income workers. For example, granting low-wage workers emergency paid sick days – at 100% of wages for any qualifying reason – and emergency paid family and medical leave. The administration should also get rid of exemptions that allow employers to deny these benefits to millions of workers. Biden can also guarantee workers permanent access to paid sick leave and paid family medical leave.
Cancel the debt. Canceling student debt would provide relief to low-income borrowers who simply cannot afford the ever-increasing cost of education. Low income borrowers are typically black and brown single parents. This is why my NCLEJ organization is one of more than 325 organizations demanding that the Biden-Harris administration immediately cancel student debt.
In our case work at NCLEJ, my staff and I see the predatory nature of debt. Low-income black and Latin communities struggle with high debt, often due to medical bills and court fines. Debt collectors and state agencies can empty people’s bank accounts, leaving families with no money to eat, and withdraw driver’s licenses, depriving some people of their only viable and safe mode of transportation for a pandemic. In addition to putting a temporary moratorium on the seizure of income and funds during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Biden administration is expected to work with Congress to eliminate driver’s license suspension for debt, prevent seizure of subsistence income and protect a basic amount in people’s bank accounts so that they have money available for housing, food and other essentials. Unfortunately, the recently passed American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 fails even to protect stimulus funds from garnishment. Inadequate consumer protections like this helped make 2020 one of the most profitable years of all time for debt collectors. Congress should act immediately to pass stand-alone legislation to protect stimulus funds from garnishment so that they benefit families, not debt collectors.
Center for disabled people. COVID-19 has deprived people with disabilities of access to adequate medical equipment and health care, and placed them at increased risk of infection in collective care facilities. The NCLEJ is currently fighting to change New York State’s medical rationing policies that could allow hospitals to take personal respirators away from chronic ventilator users and give them to patients deemed more likely to survive.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that nursing homes are incredibly dangerous environments for people with disabilities, underfunded Medicaid programs have forced too many aging adults and people with disabilities to regroup. A key solution to ensuring that people with disabilities and aging adults can stay safely in their homes during the pandemic is to fund competitive salaries for home care workers through Medicaid. The relief bill’s provision to increase Medicaid funding for home and community services by 10% for one year is an encouraging start.
Justice for working poor means solving all the problems they face. It means a change in economic policy so that families do not survive, but prosper. In 2020, the pandemic revealed how glaring economic inequalities are today. Job loss, Covid-19-related deaths and food shortage have hit low-income black families and communities of color the hardest. We all rely on essential, underpaid workers who face economic pressure and exposure to risk every day. The Biden administration must take much bolder steps to restructure racial and economic inequalities.
Dennis Parker is the executive director of the National Center for Law and Economic Justice.