To Those in Power: Give Working People Every Break During this Crisis, Including the (Critical) Option to Stay in Place
We must stay in place in a place where we trained ourselves to believe that if we stay in place we’ll die.
And the reason for that is it’s true.
Most people can’t afford to slow down, let alone stop.
They stop in this society, they die.
The mother with three children – one with a fever and a cough – in an apartment whom she dreads to take to a hospital to test for the coronavirus because the exposure could kill them, is awakened by automated calls from bill collectors.
Politicians tell her she needs to stay in place.
Just stay in place and we’ll beat the virus.
But her reality is that’s impossible.
If she stays home, she’ll lose her job.
She’ll lose her car, which she needs to get to the store.
There’s the call again on the cellphone from the bank.
She’s already late this month with a payment.
If she doesn’t pay the ultilities company they’re going to turn out the damn lights.
She is forced therefore to choose between certain disaster by staying inside, and the possibility that she will either spread coronavirus or receive it when she bundles up and heads to work.
Staying home means her kids don’t eat.
She could have until the end of the month before they’re in the street.
It’s a dice roll, but she has no choice.
She goes to work.
She works with and among other human beings, and they all do the best they can to self-protect but the work itself demands close proximity.
Anyway, it’s a paycheck.
As they all move around on the job, someone grimly mentions how the politicians at podiums are telling them to stand in place.
It’s a joke.
Who among them can afford to stand in place?
They will die on the job, they say, if need be.
Slow, imperfect, ponderous, government is finally moving in the midst of this crisis (too late? – time will tell) to try to create a reverse atmosphere in this country in which regular Americans – ordinary New Jerseyans – can right now even begin to process the idea of staying at home without causing disaster to befall their households.
It might be too late.
We will process more COVID-19 casualties in the meantime, to be sure.
This week alone in this state, among the eleven dead (80 percent were over 80, and with underlying conditions, diabetes a common thread; obesity observable in certain cases), were men in their thirties and forties.
To have at least a fighting chance we must isolate to prevent more aggressive spread of the virus.
We can only isolate if we can believe that isolation itself will not kill us.
Workers always do the work.
We reward wealth in America, not work.
So it should come as little surprise that the workers now must bear this scourge on their shoulders in addition to the usual burdens.
But workers, for the purposes of slow-down, know the safety net rapidly forming – if not for the long term – in the now.
Legislation moving through Congress would provide checks of $1,200 per adult for most families, as well as $500 for every child in that family, according to The Washington Post.
Families filing jointly would receive up to $2,400 for the adults. The size of the checks diminish for those earning more than $75,000 and phase out completely for those earning more than $99,000. The poorest families, those with no federal income tax liability, would see smaller benefits of a minimum of $600.
The package will unquestionably provoke debate, with working labor groups deriding the legislation early as a giveaway to big business, and intensifying their core argument that Americans simply mostly lack affordable healthcare.
At the state level, lawmakers yesterday moved on a series of bills, many of which directly impact those individuals in dire need.
A bill, S2304, sponsored by Senator Sweeney, would provide that an employee is eligible for earned sick leave, family temporary disability leave, temporary disability leave or family leave, as appropriate, if they are unable to work during a state of emergency because a physician or public health authority has determined they should quarantine to protect the health of others.
A bill, A3840 / S2281, sponsored by Senators Ruiz and Cunningham, would require school districts to provide meals to students enrolled in the free or reduced meal program during COVID-19 school closings. The bill provides direction as to how schools may distribute meals or meal vouchers.
A bill, A3842 / S2282, sponsored by Senators Ruiz, Kean and Rice, would allocate funds to expand access to laptops, tablets, hot spot devices and other technology for students to use at home or at school. This bill would address the digital divide and ensure students have the technology they need for remote instruction.
A bill, A3846 / S2293, sponsored by Senators Madden and Lagana, would create the “Temporary Lost Wage Unemployment Program” to allow those affected by coronavirus to recoup wages lost and to assist employers who pay wages to workers under quarantine. The bill appropriates $20 million for the program.
A bill, A3848 / S2301, sponsored by Senator Weinberg, would prohibit an employer from terminating, or refusing to reinstate, an employee who takes time off from work at the recommendation of a medical professional due to an infectious disease.
A bill, A3856 / S2297, sponsored by Senator Gopal, would appropriate $10 million for health care and residential facility sanitation due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Eligible facilities would include nursing homes, senior centers, long-term care facilities and homeless shelters, among others.
A bill, A3857 / S2275, sponsored by Senator Cryan, would appropriate $15 million for grants to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, the Food Bank of South Jersey and Fulfill Monmouth and Ocean to provide assistance to families in need.
A bill, A3858 / S2288, sponsored by Senators Greenstein and Vitale, would direct the Commissioner of Human Services to issue supplemental cash assistance payments to eligible recipients of the Work First New Jersey Program, in addition to their standard benefits, during a public health emergency in which it is determined the standard benefits are insufficient to support the needs of recipients.
A bill, A3859 / S2276, sponsored by Senators Cryan and Pou, would allow the Governor to issue an executive order to prohibit residential tenant evictions and foreclosure evictions during a public health emergency or state of emergency.
As we cope with a straining to collapsing hospital system and try in the 11th hour to stem the initial awful impact of a scarcity of test kits, Governor Phil Murphy this week announced the opning of a COVID-19 testing site in Bergen, epicenter to our most intense outbreak to date.
The testing site, established in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), will be staffed by the New Jersey Department of Health, the New Jersey State Police, and the New Jersey National Guard. Beginning on Friday, March 20th, the drive-thru testing center will be open seven days per week, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. In order to be eligible for testing, individuals must be current New Jersey residents and experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness. Priority will be given to symptomatic individuals experiencing cough, fever (99.6F or above) and shortness of breath.
They tested 654 people today.
“I have the tool belt on and screw drivers in my tool belt to screw down to make sure people stay at
home,” Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco told the governor on Friday.
On March 23rd, another FEMA testing site will open in the parking lot of the PNC Bank Center in Holmdel, the governor said.
To those in corporate power, to the bossses, the landlords, to the command centers and structures: slow down.
Give every break to those who serve, to those who run for others and cannot stop without going under.
Ensure the slow down of this conveyor belt.
Suspend calls demanding payment of bills adding to the anxiety of those with children wrapped in blankets with fever.
Supend the gouge, the stretch, the easy buck, the angry signal to the watch that the mother caught between home and the job needs to quicken her pace or find herself on the bread line.
We have no vaccine for her children at the moment, but give that mother, for God’s sake, a break.
We must stop.
“Time,” Shakespeare said, “must have a stop.”
And in that space of time that may be all between us and chaos, between us and rapid acceleration of the virus, between the doors we close on the excitable world today and another infected child, say a prayer for the country.
To all – don’t forget, under the torment of ego and raging self-centeredness in these times and amid fears of a ghost we do not wholly know – don’t forget the best of our essential connectedness, and the fiber and mettle and enduring courage of a people who came from this:
“We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty,” said John F. Kennedy, in his 1961 Inaugural Address.
And from this:
“We are Americans first, Americans last, Americans always. Let us argue our differences. But remember we are not enemies, but comrades in a war against a real enemy, and take courage from the knowledge that our military superiority is matched only by the superiority of our ideals, and our unconquerable love for them,” said the late Senator John McCain in his 2004 Republican National Convention speech.
And to the core of our immigrant NJ roots enmeshed in a world we dreamed to make better for our children than the one we escaped – from this:
“Don’t Give up the fight.” – Bob Marley.