As President Trump and some lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), debate whether or not additional federal support is necessary to manage the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, I encourage them to spend just one day with Pennsylvania workers and their families before they make up their mind.
They will learn, quickly, that we need more assistance. And we need it now. The workers I am proud to represent are under enormous pressure as they risk exposure to this disease every day.
Our union has lost 7 members to COVID-19 and 832 members have tested positive.
Thousands of Pennsylvania workers – who are all taxpayers as well – who continue to work in the midst of this pandemic need greater access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Workers in food and meat processing facilities need stronger enforcement of new safety guidelines and workplace policies that reflect the unique challenges that COVID-19 poses.
Our union also represents essential workers in nursing homes, as well as grocery store and pharmacy clerks, risk being exposed every day. They deserve stronger protections, and hazard pay.
This is a public health crisis and an economic crisis. Our state's unemployment rate stands at 12.9 percent and approximately 51,000 Pennsylvanians are filing unemployment claims each week – that is roughly the entire population of Harrisburg. Some of our workers and their family members have lost their jobs.
If Sen. Toomey or any other lawmakers were to visit an Unemployment Compensation office for just an hour, they would see that these families need the U.S. Senate and President Trump to extend the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which provides Americans forced out of work by the pandemic an additional $600 a week in assistance.
That program is scheduled to expire at the end of July. This assistance is critical for low-wage workers, who have been hit especially hard by this pandemic. There is no doubt that this program, as well as many other provisions will help workers and families of color. It is important to note that African American unemployment more than doubled in April alone. Extending this supplement will help our nation begin to address the economic inequalities that disadvantage Black Americans.
Every Pennsylvanian has a vested interested in this legislation. Our state closed the 2019-20 budget year on July 1 with a $3.2 billion shortfall and the state's Independent Fiscal Office is projecting a $4.8 billion loss in state revenue in the next year. Local governments are grappling with significant revenue losses as well.
In addition, school districts could face local revenue shortfalls of $1 billion in the next fiscal year. The debate over whether students can or should return to classrooms is raging, but under any circumstance, our public schools need to be ready to teach our kids this fall – and that requires funding.
The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act or HEROES Act. Pennsylvanians need the Senate follow suit. This legislation would provide another round of $1,200 checks to American adults and children.
The legislation also provides funding for hazard pay, paid sick and family medical leave, childcare support, OSHA protections, and funding for (PPE).
The HEROES Act would also provide $875 billion in state and local aid ($500 billion for states and $375 billion for local governments), $90 billion in education assistance, and an increase in federal Medicaid funding.
The Act also contains provisions to protect nursing home residents and workers, a critical consideration given that our state is home to more than 2.2 million residents who are 65 and over - fifth highest among all states. This provision is essential for our members.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey supports this legislation. Sen. Toomey is 'skeptical' that additional cash payments to Americans are necessary or effective. President Trump has been quick to come to the aid of banks and his wealthy backers, he has not yet developed a national strategy to protect workers.
The 35,000 members I am proud to represent have stepped up and continue to punch the clock throughout this crisis. They are hardworking taxpayers who deserve leadership in Washington D.C.
Sen. Toomey needs to show he is more than Trump's lackey. Sen. Toomey needs to lead.
Wendell W. Young IV is President of UFCW Local 1776 Keystone State and a member of the CLEAR Coalition. For more information, please visit www.ufcw1776.org. Originally published by The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.