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Three Things the Federal Government Must Do Now to Beat Coronavirus

May 15, 2020
Op-Ed and Letters

Rep. John B. Larson (CT-01) wrote the following op-ed that appeared in the Hartford Courant.

Newspaper accounts chronicle loved ones dying alone with families unable to be at their bedside, to speak or hold their hand. Isolated behind a glass window, they can only wave their final good-byes. This is how the coronavirus impacts the people of Connecticut.

It is absolutely heartbreaking. We applaud the valiant efforts of nurses, doctors and health care providers who are able to be at the bedsides of our loved ones. They have become the lone sentinels on the watch wall of the COVID-19 pandemic providing care and compassion.

Filled with grief and remorse, a nation and its stricken families struggle for answers to a global pandemic. There is no question that our physical health and our economic health are inextricably linked. There can be no economic recovery without the certainty that this virus is controlled and consumer confidence is restored.

To restore that confidence, a national effort must be marshaled by the federal government in strategic coordination with states and municipalities.

All the experts agree that testing, tracing, treatment, and vaccination are the keys. Without a nationally coordinated, science-based plan, this pandemic will continue to disrupt our health and our economic recovery. In addressing this global pandemic, the federal government must embrace the same principles that President Franklin Roosevelt did during the Great Depression. Then-Labor Secretary Frances Perkins and FDR knew that as they dealt with the immediate crisis, they had to also put forward plans for long-term structural solutions to prevent the reoccurrence of future crises.

The following are three commonsense proposals that follow the principle of dealing with the immediate crisis, while preparing for the future. These proposals are meant to be an integrated part of a comprehensive national strategy that will help all Americans.

The first proposal is to ensure that we have adequate testing, tracing and treatment capacity in the United States. After speaking with multiple experts, we propose utilizing the Defense Logistics Agency to take charge of the national supply chain for essential medical goods needed to execute this plan. The DLA is the Department of Defense’s logistics support agency whose mission is the acquisition, storage and distribution of materials for our military across the nation and around the globe.

The DLA has the unique capability to manage the supply chain that few other organizations, public or private, can match. It is absolutely critical that we increase DLA’s ability to assist states and local governments, hospitals and health care providers around the country with supplies so they are not needlessly competing against one another. Additionally, we can direct the agency to prime the manufacturing base for mass production of COVID-19 vaccine before one is approved. We have previously called for the president to more fully utilize the Defense Production Act to manufacture critical medical supplies. This would enhance the DLA’s ability to strategically and logistically distribute personal protective equipment and vaccines.

Second, we must assist those who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus: the elderly and people of color. The data unequivocally shows that these groups are dying at a disproportionate rate from COVID-19. The focus is to expand on one of Roosevelt’s greatest achievements: Social Security.

Social Security is a lifeline for millions of seniors and a trusted government program. For many women and people of color, they would be living in poverty without it. Social Security is also there for surviving spouses, children and people with disabilities. These are the populations that are most affected by this virus, and expanding benefits will help them weather this crisis.

My bill, The Emergency Social Security Benefits Improvement Act, will expand benefits, helping those most in need during the pandemic. It will do this by:

  • Providing an average of 2% benefit increase across the board to all 64 million Americans receiving Social Security benefits;
  • Setting the minimum benefit at 125 percent above the poverty level;
  • Reducing taxes on benefits for lower- and middle-income taxpayers;
  • Ensuring grandparents are entitled to benefits to care for their grandchildren;
  • Improving the widows’ benefits for lower- and middle- income beneficiaries;
  • Ensuring dependent students are qualified for benefits through age 21.

This is a common-sense, simple step that we know is a proven remedy. Social Security has never missed a payment and is there for all Americans, especially during times like the one we face today. These steps will lay the groundwork for legislation to further strengthen the program.

Finally, during this difficult time, I have also heard from countless constituents asking how they can help while adhering to social distancing. One way we can do that is by instituting Victory Bonds. During World War II, millions of Americans heeded the call of unity and came together to help their country. They were able to do so from their homes, by purchasing Victory Stamps and Bonds.

My bill, the Victory Bonds Act, will create government savings bonds, with all revenue directed to funding the federal government’s public health response to the coronavirus pandemic and support for small businesses. The Victory Bonds Act creates the opportunity for Americans to protect their people and emerge triumphant over this disease.

At the end of the day, we aren’t going to solve all the issues that the pandemic has caused with one answer. We need an all-of-the-above approach that is united across the federal, state, and local governments. This is the moral imperative of our time, and the time to act is now.

John B. Larson represents Connecticut’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.