Archive | April 17th, 2020

Digital surveillance to fight COVID-19 can only be justified if it respects human rights

  • More than 100 civil society groups sign joint statement setting out conditions that must be met before the use of surveillance technology to fight pandemic

With governments across the world rapidly expanding the use of digital surveillance in an attempt to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, Amnesty International and other leading NGOs have set out strict conditions that must be met to safeguard human rights and prevent surveillance overreach.  

More than 100 hundred civil society groups joined Amnesty in signing the statement, including Access Now, Human Rights Watch and Privacy International.

 “Technology can play an important role in the global effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, however, this does not give governments carte blanche to expand digital surveillance. The recent past has shown governments are reluctant to relinquish temporary surveillance powers. We must not sleepwalk into a permanent expanded surveillance state now,” said Rasha Abdul Rahim, Deputy Director of Amnesty Tech.

 “Increased digital surveillance to tackle this public health emergency, can only be used if certain strict conditions are met. Authorities cannot simply disregard the right to privacy and must ensure any new measures have robust human rights safeguards. Wherever governments use the power of technology as part of their strategy to beat COVID-19, they must do so in a way that respects human rights.”

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Big Brother in the Age of Coronavirus: 100+ Groups Warn Against Exploiting Pandemic to Permanently Expand Surveillance State

“These are extraordinary times, but human rights law still applies.”

By: Jessica Corbett,

germs and code

“Technology can play an important role in the global effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic; however, this does not give governments carte blanche to expand digital surveillance.” (Image: WITNESS/Twitter)

As the number of COVID-19 cases climbed toward a million worldwide on Thursday, over 100 human rights groups issued a joint statement warning that governments’ response to the coronavirus pandemic “must not be used as a cover to usher in a new era of greatly expanded systems of invasive digital surveillance.”

“Now more than ever, governments must rigorously ensure that any restrictions to these rights is in line with long-established human rights safeguards.”
—100+ groups

The groups acknowledge that the public health crisis “requires a coordinated and large-scale response” but urge governments “to show leadership in tackling the pandemic in a way that ensures that the use of digital technologies to track and monitor individuals and populations is carried out strictly in line with human rights.”

“An increase in state digital surveillance powers, such as obtaining access to mobile phone location data, threatens privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of association, in ways that could violate rights and degrade trust in public authorities—undermining the effectiveness of any public health response,” says the statement (pdf). “Such measures also pose a risk of discrimination and may disproportionately harm already marginalized communities.”

“These are extraordinary times, but human rights law still applies,” the statement continues. “Now more than ever, governments must rigorously ensure that any restrictions to these rights is in line with long-established human rights safeguards.”

Big Brother Watch@BigBrotherWatch

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The Coronavirus response “must not be used as a cover to usher in a new era of greatly expanded systems of invasive surveillance.”

We joined 100+ civil society orgs around the world to send a clear message to Governments. We’re watching the watchers https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/04/covid19-digital-surveillance-ngo/ …

Groups behind the statement are from across the globe and include Amnesty International, Access Now, Big Brother Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) Human Rights Watch, Privacy International, Public Citizen, WITNESS, and the World Wide Web Foundation.

Even before the coronavirus outbreak began in China late last year, the country was widely known and criticized for its mass surveillance, including facial recognition technology. In recent months, the Guardian reported in March, “Chinese citizens have had to adjust to a new level of government intrusion” that critics worry will persist even after the pandemic ends.

While the ability to track the virus with digital technology has been pivotal to understanding the outbreak’s development, concerns about how governments and the private sector are using surveillance technology—such as data collection from smartphones—to track people during the pandemic have also emerged elsewhere, such as Singapore, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

Access Now@accessnow

“There will be an aftermath to the COVID-19 outbreak. We must ensure that the measures governments are taking right now do not transform this health crisis into a global human rights crisis,” @EstelMP https://www.accessnow.org/access-now-joins-100-organisations-in-telling-governments-dont-use-the-coronavirus-pandemic-as-cover-for-expanding-digital-surveillance/ …

“Governments risk compounding the harms of this outbreak by running roughshod over our privacy and dignity, and ignoring protections that arose in direct response to overreach during past global crises,” Access Now general counsel Peter Micek warned in a statement. “By selling tools of surveillance as public health solutions, authorities and all-too-willing companies could rewrite the rules of the digital ecosystem in corona-colored ink—which we fear is permanent.”

“By selling tools of surveillance as public health solutions, authorities and all-too-willing companies could rewrite the rules of the digital ecosystem in corona-colored ink—which we fear is permanent.”
—Peter Micek, Access Now

Amnesty Tech deputy director Rasha Abdul Rahim said Thursday that “technology can play an important role in the global effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic; however, this does not give governments carte blanche to expand digital surveillance. The recent past has shown governments are reluctant to relinquish temporary surveillance powers. We must not sleepwalk into a permanent expanded surveillance state now.”

“Increased digital surveillance to tackle this public health emergency can only be used if certain strict conditions are met,” added Abdul Rahim. “Authorities cannot simply disregard the right to privacy and must ensure any new measures have robust human rights safeguards. Wherever governments use the power of technology as part of their strategy to beat COVID-19, they must do so in a way that respects human rights.”

The groups’ statement details eight conditions they believe must be met to justify increased digital surveillance as part of coronavirus containment efforts. The conditions include demands for transparency, time limits, restrictions on how data can be used, privacy protections, measures to prevent discrimination, and participation from relevant stakeholders.

“This crisis offers an opportunity to demonstrate our shared humanity,” the statement says. “We can make extraordinary efforts to fight this pandemic that are consistent with human rights standards and the rule of law. The decisions that governments make now to confront the pandemic will shape what the world looks like in the future.”

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‘Still Ahead of His Time’: New Video Details Bernie Sanders’ Prescient Warnings About Pandemic Threat and Need for Medicare for All

“Voters are watching in real time as Bernie Sanders’ platform—Medicare for All, a federal housing guarantee, paid leave for everyone, and much else—is looking more and more like a common-sense solution to huge problems.”

by: Jake Johnson,

“Americans have long suffered from the outrageous costs of healthcare, and most workers know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck. They’re basic problems in our political and economic system that Bernie Sanders has been correctly diagnosing his entire career,” said RootsAction co-founder Norman Solomon. (Photo: Donna Light/Associated Press)

A video released Thursday by progressive advocacy organization RootsAction uses decades of archival footage to show that the deadly coronavirus pandemic has—in just a matter of weeks—vindicated Sen. Bernie Sanders’ career-long support for Medicare for All and sweeping economic change.

“They’re basic problems in our political and economic system that Bernie Sanders has been correctly diagnosing his entire career.”
—Norman Solomon, RootsAction

The two-minute clip features footage dating back to 1987 of Sanders, today a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, warning about the “crisis of affordable healthcare” and urging the U.S. government take steps to “protect the American people and people throughout the world” from a possible global outbreak on the scale of the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic.

“Voters are watching in real time as Bernie Sanders’ platform—Medicare for All, a federal housing guarantee, paid leave for everyone, and much else—is looking more and more like a common-sense solution to huge problems,” Jeff Cohen, co-founder of RootsAction.org, said in a statement.

“With 27 states and territories left to cast their votes [in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary],” said Cohen, “we believe that it’s important to deliver this message as widely as possible.”

Watch the full video:

The video comes as the Democratic presidential primary has been thrown into complete disarray by the coronavirus crisis, which has forced 15 states to postpone their primary contests. Wisconsin, which is scheduled to hold its primary next Tuesday, is facing calls to delay the election, including from Sanders.

Meanwhile, the nationwide economic fallout caused by the coronavirus outbreak continues to intensify. On Thursday, as Common Dreams reported, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that a record-shattering 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total number of jobless claims from the month of March to more than 10 million.

The Economic Policy Institute estimated Thursday that “3.5 million workers likely lost their employer-provided health insurance in the past two weeks,” bolstering Medicare for All advocates’ argument that tying healthcare to employment is fundamentally problematic.

“Sanders has consistently advocated for the kinds of policies, such as Medicare for All and more substantial rights for working people, that would have left the U.S. better prepared to confront the coronavirus pandemic.”
—Kenny Stancil

“The coronavirus is exposing horrible gaps in our system,” Norman Solomon, co-founder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org and Common Dreams contributor, said in a statement. “But it’s important to note that they are not new flaws that appeared overnight. Americans have long suffered from the outrageous costs of healthcare, and most workers know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck.”

“These are longstanding realities that have gone unaddressed by the political establishment and left us more vulnerable to this pandemic,” said Solomon. “They’re basic problems in our political and economic system that Bernie Sanders has been correctly diagnosing his entire career.”

In a Common Dreams essay on Thursday, Kenny Stancil echoed that argument, noting that “even as Bernie’s path to the Democratic nomination is becoming more difficult, his bold ideas are increasingly popular and more necessary than ever to minimize death and misery in the wake of the diffusion of COVID-19.”

“Unlike his political opponents who have fought for the types of austerity measures that make the U.S. more vulnerable to disasters,” Stancil wrote, “Sanders has consistently advocated for the kinds of policies, such as Medicare for All and more substantial rights for working people, that would have left the U.S. better prepared to confront the coronavirus pandemic.”

Even if Sanders does not ultimately win the Democratic primary, he added, “it is essential… that [Sanders’] candidacy continues through the convention and that the movement for Medicare for All and a Green New Deal persists.”

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‘Government Needs to Step In’: Food Banks Across US Report Unprecedented Demand—and Shortages—as Coronavirus Pandemic Ravages

“We’re seeing people from every socio-economic level because the majority of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.”

by: Julia Conley,

Volunteers from City harvest distribute food in Harlem on March 28, 2020 in New York City. With tens of thousands of New Yorkers out of work due to the epidemic, New York food banks are facing an influx of newcomers who never before would have needed them. (Photo: Kena Betancur / AFP via Getty Images)

As 6.6 million Americans filed jobless claims last week—part of at least 10 million people in the U.S. who are out of work in the last two weeks due to the coornavirus pandemic—increasingly long lines at food banks across the country offered another grim illustration of the financial realities faced by the poor and working classes in the United States.

According to an investigation by The Guardian, demand at food banks has increased by eight times in some areas. About a third of people interviewed by the outlet at food banks last month had never before needed food assistance. 

Kristin Warzocha, CEO of the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, said the trend was not surprising considering the precarious circumstances working Americans are accustomed to living in, with 78% of workers living paycheck to paycheck and 45% reporting that they have no savings account.

“We’re seeing people from every socio-economic level because the majority of Americans live paycheck to paycheck,” Warzocha told The Guardian.

The coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, spread to every state in the U.S. in March and drove governments in 38 states to direct nearly 300 million people to stay home—forcing businesses across the country to close and lay off or furlough workers.

In Cleveland, The Guardian spoke with first-time food bank visitors including a freelance photographer, a woman who worked in the hospitality industry, and a cab driver.

At St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix, Arizona, spokesman Jerry Brown reported that “people who knew about us because they donated or volunteered are coming in for food.”

“The 2008 recession doesn’t touch this,” Brown told The Guardian. “It’s a different ballgame.”

On social media, a number of media outlets detailed unprecedented demand and supply shortages at food banks in Florida, Arizona, and Pennsylvania—where Pittsburgh Post-Gazette photographer Andrew Rush posted an aerial view of hundreds of cars lined up outside the Greater Community Food Bank in Duquesne.

Alex Harris@harrisalexc

Produce is rotting on the vine in South Florida, but the demand at food banks is higher than ever. At a recent food giveaway in Miami, the line of cars was eight miles long. Incredible story by @Carlos_Frias & @KevinGHall https://www.miamiherald.com/news/coronavirus/article241627101.html …

The food bank in Greater Pittsburgh reported it received more than 1,000 calls from people in need of assistance in the past two weeks. Ninety percent of the calls were from people who were newly unemployed.

In Massachusetts, a pantry in Amherst distributed 849% more food in March than it did last year.

The high demand at the nation’s food banks comes as some Americans await a means-tested one-time payment of $1,200 per adult—a figure that is projected to last the average household less than two weeks in the midst of a crisis that could go on for several months.

In order to support the rising number of Americans facing job loss and food-insecurity, Kellie O’Connell of the Lakeview pantry in Chicago told The Guardian, the federal government must take responsibility for ensuring working people in the wealthiest country in the world don’t go hungry. 

“Philanthropy and not-for-profits are not going to be able to meet food demands,” O’Connell said. “The government needs to step in.”

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‘Not Enough’: Trump Reversal on Coronavirus Relief Payments Still Leaves ‘Unacceptable’ Barrier for Millions

“They’re still requiring SSI recipients and veterans receiving pensions to file a tax return before receiving their coronavirus stimulus payments.”

by: Jake Johnson,

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin answers questions at a White House press briefing. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

After a wave of backlash from advocates and Democratic lawmakers, the Trump administration late Wednesday abruptly reversed policy guidance that would have required millions of Social Security recipients to file a tax return in order to receive the one-time $1,200 relief payment to which they are entitled under the newly passed coronavirus stimulus package.

But critics were quick to warn that the administration’s reversal—announced in a statement by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin—does not cover low-income recipients of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and veterans benefits. Leaving the roadblock in the way of these vulnerable groups, said advocates, could mean millions will not receive desperately needed relief.

“They’re still requiring SSI recipients and veterans receiving pensions to file a tax return before receiving their coronavirus stimulus payments. That burden is unacceptable.”
—Rep. Jan Schakowsky

“Under pressure, the Trump administration has reversed the cruel and needless requirement for Social Security beneficiaries to file a tax return to receive their $1,200 payment,” tweeted advocacy group Social Security Works. “Now, they need to do the same for recipients of SSI and Veteran’s Pensions.”

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law last Friday, explicitly gives the Treasury Department authority to use Social Security Administration and Veterans Administration data already on file to distribute payments to those who did not file tax returns in 2018 or 2019 because they did not owe federal taxes.

Mnuchin said late Wednesday that “Social Security recipients who are not typically required to file a tax return do not to need take an action, and will receive their payment directly to their bank account.”

“Recipients will receive these payments as a direct deposit or by paper check, just as they would normally receive their benefits,” said Mnuchin. The Treasury Department is reportedly working to set up an online portal for people to update their direct deposit information.

Linda Benesch, communications director for Social Security Works, tweeted that the administration’s change “should apply to people receiving [Social Security Disability Insurance]” but “doesn’t appear to apply to people receiving SSI” because it is a separate program.

“We’ll keep fighting to fix that,” said Benesch.

Linda Benesch@LindaBeneschReplying to @SilviaGrace19 @SSWorks

SSI isn’t part of Social Security in the way SSDI is. It’s a separate program that’s also administered by the Social Security Administration.202:05 AM – Apr 2, 2020

In a tweet accompanied by a smiling elderly couple, the Internal Revenue Service Wednesday night publicized the Trump administration’s policy change, noting that “Social Security beneficiaries who are not typically required to file tax returns will not need to file to receive an economic impact payment. It’s automatic.”

However, the IRS concedes in its fact-sheet on coronavirus relief that “some people who typically do not file returns will need to submit a simple tax return to receive the stimulus payment.”

While the Trump administration has portrayed the filing as “simple,” Democratic lawmakers and journalists have reported hearing complaints from dozens of seniors who say they have been unable to file the required return online because they have no taxable income. Volunteer tax clinics across the U.S. that help people navigate the filing process are closed due to the coronavirus crisis.

“Since my printer isn’t working, I’m not able to print it out to send it in,” Sue Bohl, a 63-year-old Social Security Disability Insurance recipient in De Pere, Wisconsin, told HuffPost. “It’s hard for me, because I don’t think it’s smart to be going out to do anything right now, so I’m stuck!”

Rep. Jan Schakowski (D-Ill.), a member of the House Democratic Task Force on Aging and Families, tweeted Wednesday night that the Treasury Department’s reversal “is not enough.”

“They’re still requiring SSI recipients and veterans receiving pensions to file a tax return before receiving their coronavirus stimulus payments,” said Schakowski. “That burden is unacceptable.”

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that “beyond the tax-filing hurdle, millions of other Americans are realizing that they don’t qualify for a coronavirus relief check” as mass layoffs continue across the United States.

“Most high school seniors and college students won’t get any money,” the Post reported. “The bill gives nothing to families for their children older than 16, a shock to many households already reeling from canceled graduations, and college students readjusting to life at home with so many universities shut down. Many immigrant families are also learning that they are ineligible. In order for anyone in the family to receive a payment, each person in the household—including children—is supposed to have a valid Social Security number.”

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In Nation Without Medicare for All, 3.5 Million Workers May Have Lost Employer-Provided Insurance Over Last Two Weeks

“The COVID-19 pandemic lays bare the cruelty of tying health insurance coverage to employment.”

by: Andrea Germanos,

Medicare for All supporters hold signs

A new analysis estimates that 3.5 million workers lost their health insurance in the last two weeks because of their insurance being tied to employment. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A new analysis estimates that 3.5 million U.S. workers may have lost their job-tied health insurance in just the last two weeks.

“The COVID-19 pandemic lays bare the cruelty of tying health insurance coverage to employment,” wrote Ben Zipperer, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), on Twitter Thursday.

Ben Zipperer@benzipperer

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3.5 million workers likely lost their employer provided health insurance in the past two weeks

The COVID-19 pandemic lays bare the cruelty of tying health insurance coverage to employment https://www.epi.org/blog/3-5-million-workers-likely-lost-their-employer-provided-health-insurance-in-the-past-two-weeks/ …

View image on Twitter

6014:07 PM – Apr 2, 2020Twitter Ads info and privacy

The analysis from Zipperer and EPI director of research Josh Bivens came the same day data from the U.S. Department of Labor revealed that 6.6 million Americans filed jobless claims last week—more than double the previous record of 3.28 million claims filed the week before—as the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic continues to batter workers.

The analysis also provides fresh evidence for Medicare for All advocates’ longstanding argument that the current healthcare system, in which roughly half of Americans rely on their employer for healthcare coverage, must be abandoned in favor of a system that guarantees coverage to everyone regardless of employment.

“It is especially terrifying for workers to lose their health insurance as a result of, and during, an ongoing pandemic,” wrote Zipperer and Bivens.

While the 3.5 million estimated figure of newly-uninsured people is bleak, the number may be even higher, the analysis finds:

Using new UI claims by industry from the state of Washington—the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States—we are able to provide a very rough estimate of the number of workers at high risk of losing health insurance they had through their own employer due to coronavirus-related layoffs (or furloughs or hours reductions). We can’t say exactly how many people will lose insurance coverage altogether for several reasons. For example, some workers who lose EPHI due to layoffs or hours reductions that trigger UI claims may be able to obtain coverage through health care exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or through Medicaid. Some of this group may also be able to obtain continuing coverage through COBRA, paying out of pocket the full cost of their EPHI coverage. Some workers may be able to obtain coverage through other family members, or if only experiencing a temporary furlough or hours reduction, their employers might continue to pay for coverage. On the other hand, our calculations might understate the loss of health insurance coverage because they do not account for family members who are no longer covered because of the policyholder’s layoff. And because not all layoffs result in UI claims, we will underestimate the actual magnitude of job losses.

“Unemployment insurance claims for the last two weeks are mind-blowing,” EPI policy director Heidi Shierholz wrote in a Twitter thread Thursday in which she called the number of newly-uninsured “the cherry-from-hell on top.”

The pandemic has also helped highlight the differences in healthcare proposals put forth by Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden has reaffirmed his opposition to Medicare for All, even as new polling shows record high for such a system. 

Sanders, who’s made Medicare for All a central component of his campaign, has said the need the current pandemic only serves to underscore his policy proposal.

In a Thursday tweet, Sanders said, “We need Medicare for All so that your health insurance is not tied to your job.”

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‘Never Seen Anything Like It’: Economists Warn 6.6 Million New Jobless Claims Portend Unparalleled Crisis

“A portrait of disaster. Unemployment insurance claims for the last two weeks are mind-blowing.”

by: Jake Johnson,

People wait in line as volunteers distribute food in Harlem on March 28, 2020 in New York City. With tens of thousands of New Yorkers out of work due to the epidemic, New York food banks are facing an influx of newcomers. (Photo: Kena Betancu/AFP via Getty Images)

The U.S. Department of Labor announced Thursday that 6.6 million Americans filed jobless claims last week, a staggering and record-breaking surge in unemployment that comes as the coronavirus outbreak has completely shuttered large swaths of the economy and sparked mass layoffs nationwide.

“I have spent the last twenty years studying the labor market and have never seen anything like it.”
—Heidi Shierholtz, Economic Policy Institute

The new figures bring the total number of unemployment claims for the month of March to 10.4 million, surpassing the number of jobs lost during the entirety of the Great Recession of 2007-2009. The 6.6 million new unemployment claims are more than double the previous record of 3.28 million claims set just last week.

“The labor market is contracting at the rate of one Great Recession per 10 days,” tweeted The Atlantic‘s Derek Thompson.

Heidi Shierholtz of the Economic Policy Institute said that in her two decades of studying the labor market, she has “never seen anything like” the spike in unemployment in that the U.S. has experienced over the last two weeks.

“This chart is a portrait of disaster,” Shierholz tweeted, pointing to a Labor Department graphic depicting the steep rise in jobless claims. “Unemployment insurance claims for the last two weeks are mind-blowing.”

Heidi Shierholz@hshierholz

This chart is a portrait of disaster. I have spent the last twenty years studying the labor market and have never seen anything like it. Unemployment insurance claims for the last two weeks are mind-blowing. 1/

View image on Twitter

2,2741:33 PM – Apr 2, 2020

Shierholz said the unparalleled rise in jobless claims cries out for an immediate and sweeping response from Congress, which is officially on recess until April 20.

“Given the extraordinary deterioration of the labor market in a matter of weeks,” said Shierholz, “federal policymakers will absolutely need to come back and provide more desperately needed relief, and more support for the recovery once the lockdown is over.”

“We need an unprecedented economic stimulus. We need a Green New Deal.”
—Sunrise Movement

The multi-trillion-dollar stimulus package signed into law by President Donald Trump last Friday includes a one-time $1,200 direct cash payment to millions of Americans and a $600 increase in unemployment benefits for a period of four months, but those benefits have not yet reached the bank accounts of those who are eligible.

Around 70 million eligible Americans may not see stimulus payments for months because they don’t have direct deposit information on file with the Internal Revenue Service, according to the Brookings Institution.

“That’s now 10 million people who have no income and no [health] insurance at the beginning of a pandemic,” progressive radio host Benjamin Dixon tweeted after Thursday’s numbers came in. “Any politician NOT calling for a minimum of $2000/month [universal basic income] and nationalized healthcare will be complicit with the total collapse of our system.”

The youth-led Sunrise Movement said the rapid economic meltdown makes the case for a Green New Deal.

“We need an unprecedented economic stimulus,” the group tweeted. “We need a Green New Deal.”

Sunrise Movement @sunrisemvmt

10 million.

More jobs have been lost in the last two weeks than were lost in the entire Great Recession.

We need an unprecedented economic stimulus. We need a #GreenNewDeal.https://www.forbes.com/sites/sarahhansen/2020/04/02/the-us-has-now-lost-nearly-10-million-jobs-because-of-coronavirus/amp/ …1,0272:07 PM – Apr 2, 2020

Economists have warned in recent days that unemployment is likely to continue soaring in the coming weeks before the crisis begins to subside.

Miguel Faria-e-Castro, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, wrote in an analysis last week that 47 million workers could lose their jobs by the end of June, which would bring the unemployment rate to 32.1%. The unemployment rate at the peak of the Great Depression was 25%.

“These are very large numbers by historical standards,” wrote Faria-e-Castro, “but this is a rather unique shock that is unlike any other experienced by the U.S. economy in the last 100 years.”

Economist Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, tweeted Thursday that “there’s a debate in Congress…about whether to quickly add more economic stimulus or wait and see what happens with what we’ve done so far.”

“I’m congenitally a careful, wait-and-see type, BUT NOT NOW!” Bernstein said.

“What should go in a phase 4 stimulus?” Bernstein continued. “Nutritional support (very helpful in last recession), state fiscal support (states facing huge demands amidst tanking revenues), more help to households through round 2 checks, [and increased unemployment insurance] beyond end of July.”

Quoting a famous scene from the movie “Jaws,” Bernstein added: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

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Trump Labor Department Accused of Quietly ‘Twisting the Law’ to Slash Paid Sick Leave Amid Pandemic

“The Trump administration is robbing workers of the paid sick days and paid leave Congress passed into law for them. That is unconscionable.”

byJake Johnson,

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue attend a bill signing ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House on March 27, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images)

Two Democratic members of Congress on Thursday accused the Department of Labor of quietly “twisting the law” to limit the scope of already inadequate paid sick leave provisions contained in a coronavirus stimulus package that President Donald Trump signed into law last month.

Over the weekend, the Labor Department—headed by former corporate lawyer Eugene Scalia—published policy guidance on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) that Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said creates several “gratuitous loopholes” allowing corporations to limit the number of employees eligible for paid leave.

“This simply can’t stand. This guidance needs to be rewritten so workers get the leave they are guaranteed under the law.”
—Sen. Patty Murray

“The Trump administration is twisting the law to allow employers to shirk their responsibility and is significantly narrowing which workers are eligible for paid leave,” Murray said in a statement. “This simply can’t stand. This guidance needs to be rewritten so workers get the leave they are guaranteed under the law.”

The FFCRA, which Trump signed into law on March 18, provides two weeks of paid sick leave to eligible workers who fall ill and 12 weeks of leave to workers caring for children whose schools have closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The bill excludes workers at companies with more than 500 employees.

In a detailed letter (pdf) to Scalia on Wednesday, Murray and DeLauro said the Labor Department’s guidance blatantly “contradict[s] the plain language of the FFCRA and violate congressional intent.”

One example Murray and DeLauro highlighted is the Labor Department’s definition of “unable to work.”

“You are unable to work if your employer has work for you and one of the COVID-19 qualifying reasons set forth in the FFCRA prevents you from being able to perform that work, either under normal circumstances at your normal worksite or by means of telework,” the Labor Department wrote in its guidance.

Murray and DeLauro said that definition would “allow all employers to evade the requirements of the Act at any point during this pandemic by informing employees that it does not have work for them to perform at the moment—thereby fully depriving them of a day, a week, or 12 weeks of paid leave.”

“Nothing in the text of the FFCRA indicates the employer must have work for an employee to perform on any particular day for that employee to be able to qualify for paid leave on that day—nor does it give employers the authority to refuse their employees their statutory right to paid leave by not assigning them work, furloughing them, or closing a particular worksite,” Murray and DeLauro wrote in their letter.

In a press release, Murray and DeLauro summarized their concerns with the Labor Department guidance, warning that it would:

  • Require certification in order for workers to qualify for paid leave. DOL states that employers can require certification for employees to qualify for paid leave, even though the FFCRA does not require for any such certification from employees.
  • Restrict what qualifies as being “unable to work.” DOL states that employees only qualify for paid sick or family leave if they are unable to work and their employer has work for them, allowing employers to cut off employees’ rights to paid sick or family leave by claiming they have nothing for the employee to do. This guidance is in direct contradiction with the FFCRA, which does not allow employers to use those tactics to prevent employees from receiving paid leave.
  • Restrict worker’s ability to take leave intermittently. DOL states that an employee may only take their leave intermittently “if your employer allows it.” This conclusion is found nowhere in the text and gives the employer, rather than the employee who has the need for leave, the ability to decide how to use the employee’s leave.
  • Exempt employees from paid leave. FFCRA exempts narrowly defined “health care providers” from the paid leave provisions due to the nature of the current crisis. But without authority, DOL redefined a “health care provider” to include nearly any employee who happens to work for an employer who also employs a health care provider, works at any type of quasi-medical facility, works as an employee contracted for non-healthcare services in a facility that houses a health care provider, or merely works in the medical supply chain.
  • Not guaranteeing paid leave during a “shelter in place” order. DOL does not clarify that a government directive to stay at home qualifies for paid leave. In fact, DOL even indicates that employees lose their right to paid leave if their employer closes the employee’s worksite in the event of a government directive. This clearly defies the FFCRA which grants paid leave to employees who are subject to quarantine or isolation orders from government officials.

“In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration is robbing workers of the paid sick days and paid leave Congress passed into law for them. That is unconscionable,” DeLauro said in a statement. “People across the country are struggling to make ends meet, and essential workers who are still able to work need to know that if they or a loved one falls ill that they can take time off.”

“Keeping workers from getting other workers sick is good for employees, employers, and our broader public health,” said DeLauro. “Secretary Scalia needs to immediately rescind this guidance and put workers’ needs first.”

Posted in USAComments Off on Trump Labor Department Accused of Quietly ‘Twisting the Law’ to Slash Paid Sick Leave Amid Pandemic

“We’re Running Out of Time to Get This Right”: Congress Urged to Move Swiftly to Protect 2020 Elections From Pandemic’s Mayhem

“None of us know how long this pandemic will last, and no American should have to choose between protecting their health and exercising their right to vote.”

by: Eoin Higgins,

"Congress must approve at least $1.6 billion in additional funding for safe and fair elections."

“Congress must approve at least $1.6 billion in additional funding for safe and fair elections.” (Photo: Barron Ludlum/Yahoo)

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to paralyze public life and the economy as it spreads across the U.S., voting rights advocates are demanding the federal government urgently prioritize funding election assistance for November’s general election—citing the fact there is no way to know what the future of the pandemic will bring.

“Election officials are facing unprecedented challenges this year, and they need more resources from Congress to help keep elections safe, accessible, and secure amid the pandemic.”
—Lawrence Norden, NYU Brennan Center for Justice

“We’re running out of time to get this right,” Stand Up America president Sean Eldridge said in a statement Thursday calling on Congress to act. “None of us know how long this pandemic will last, and no American should have to choose between protecting their health and exercising their right to vote.”

Stand Up America led a press call Thursday on the importance of funding elections in the next stimulus package, referred to as “Phase 4” in Washington. Lawmakers are on recess and will not return to work on the legislation until later in April, but advocacy groups are already pushing for progressive priorities like vote-by-mail and expanded early voting periods to be included in the package. 

Barbara Malmet@B52Malmet

Experts say we need $2 billion in funding to expand vote-by-mail to ensure Americans can safely vote. I’m joining @StandUpAmerica’s campaign to demand Congress pass the necessary funding to protect us and our elections. Retweet if you’re with me!

Barbara Malmet@B52Malmet

Experts say we need $2 billion in funding to expand vote-by-mail to ensure Americans can safely vote. I’m joining @StandUpAmerica’s campaign to demand Congress pass the necessary funding to protect us and our elections. Retweet if you’re with me!

View image on Twitter

1656:44 PM – Apr 2, 2020

Democrats in the House are reportedly looking to prioritize infrastructure projects and a tax break for wealthier Americans through removal of the SALT deduction cap, as Common Dreams reported on Tuesday. 

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said Thursday that the funding bill must make sure that the country has the opportunity to vote by mail in November.

“Congress must approve at least $1.6 billion in additional funding for safe and fair elections,” said Gupta. “That funding is needed to help states to prepare for November and provide voters with a range of options for casting ballots, including in-person early voting, no-excuse absentee voting by mail, voter registration opportunities, and safe in-person voting on Election Day.”

The coronavirus, or COVID-19, presents a unique difficulty to election workers, as NYU law’s Brennan Center for Justice Election Reform Program director Lawrence Norden explained, making assistance a prerogative for lawmakers. 

“Election officials are facing unprecedented challenges this year, and they need more resources from Congress to help keep elections safe, accessible, and secure amid the pandemic,” said Norden. “Additional funding is needed now so that jurisdictions around the country have time to make critical adjustments before November.”

But election assistance faces an uphill battle, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday in an interview with right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt on the next steps in stimulus legislation.

“I’m not going to allow this to be an opportunity for the Democrats to achieve unrelated policy items that they would not otherwise be able to pass,” said McConnell in remarks that CNBC reported were aimed at election assistance. 

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump warned that “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” if some of the voting expansions Democrats are calling for were to become law.

Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn said in a statement that she hoped lawmakers would do the right thing in spite of their differences.

“This is a time for our leaders to come together to solve this public health crisis and ensure everyone has access to the ballot,” said Flynn.

Posted in USAComments Off on “We’re Running Out of Time to Get This Right”: Congress Urged to Move Swiftly to Protect 2020 Elections From Pandemic’s Mayhem

‘The Poor, the Sick, the Homeless, the Children, the Low-Wage Workers’

‘The Poor, the Sick, the Homeless, the Children, the Low-Wage Workers’: Moral Leaders Demand Coronavirus Relief for Most Vulnerable

“We are asking people to call on the White House and Congress to enact relief for the people that Jesus cared about,” say the Poor People’s Campaign co-chairs.

by: Jessica Corbett,

Rev. Drs. Liz Theoharis and William Barber

Rev. Drs. Liz Theoharis and William Barber appeared on stage at the Poor People’s Moral Action Congress forum for presidential candidates at Trinity Washington University on June 17, 2019. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In an op-ed published Thursday by TIME, Poor People’s Campaign co-chairs Rev. Drs. William Barber and Liz Theoharis outlined the “evil” elements of the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus legislation that President Donald Trump signed last week and demanded a federal COVID-19 relief effort that centers the needs of the nation’s most vulnerable.

“We must invest in education, living-wage jobs, anti-poverty programs, public infrastructure, and a single-payer healthcare program that does away with our privatized, for-profit healthcare system and instead guarantees everybody in, nobody out.”
—Rev. Drs. William Barber and Liz Theoharis, Poor People’s Campaign

Although the third coronavirus relief package provides some cash payments to workers, increased unemployment benefits, and support to small businesses, Barber and Theoharis noted “it also includes a $500 billion fund to bail out corporations, and Trump has already vowed to defy the oversight that Democrats in the Senate and House worked to require.”

“Americans who are desperate for aid from their government could not get it without paying a 25% surcharge to the rich and powerful,” they added. “In a word, this is evil.”

Barber and Theoharis explained that “as Trump and his enablers continue to fumble their response to COVID-19 and sow deep inequities into the social response to this pandemic, the Poor People’s Campaign is calling for noncooperation with injustice and inequality,” and urging Congress to pursue “permanent changes” to improve the lives of people most affected by the pandemic.

The co-chairs detailed various shortcomings of the most recent relief package as well as what they want introduced going forward:

[The] $2 trillion bill that Congress passed treated corporations like people and people like things—with no provisions for a permanent living wage, paid sick leave for all, or health insurance for the uninsured. It leaves out the majority of homeless, undocumented immigrants, the disabled, and anyone too poor to have to file taxes. It only places a four-month moratorium on eviction filings. It does not include rent freezes nor large-scale debt forgiveness.

We need a relief bill that centers the needs of the homeless, the uninsured, the underemployed and the low-wage workers now deemed “essential,” although their wages do not show this. We must invest in education, living-wage jobs, anti-poverty programs, public infrastructure, and a single-payer healthcare program that does away with our privatized, for-profit healthcare system and instead guarantees everybody in, nobody out. We have put forward these demands in our petition “Poverty Amidst Pandemic: A Moral Response to COVID-19.”

The Poor People’s Campaign, a revival of an effort launched over 50 years ago by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is a national movement that confronts “the interlocking evils of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism and the war economy, and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism.”

In addition to serving as the campaign’s leaders, Barber and Theoharis are preachers and theologians. As such, they expressed alarm that Trump recently discussed reopening the U.S. economy by and packing church pews for Easter, which falls on April 12, despite public health officials’ social distancing guidelines and persistent calls for a nationwide shutdown to contain the coronavirus.

“Between now and Easter, we are asking people to call on the White House and Congress to enact relief for the people that Jesus cared about—the poor, the sick, the homeless, the children, the low-wage workers,” Barber and Theoharis wrote. “Over the next few months, we are calling for mass noncooperation with the Trump administration’s ‘return to normalcy’ approach to this crisis.”

Rep. Barbara Lee@RepBarbaraLee

Powerful words from @RevDrBarber and @liztheo – we must center the needs of our nation’s vulnerable over the needs of corporations and the 1%. #PeopleOverProfits https://time.com/5814076/coronavirus-stimulus-bill-corporate-bailout/ …The Evil in the $2 Trillion Coronavirus Stimulus BillWe must speak out and stand up against ittime.com

Following an emerging trend of shifting from public demonstrations to online activism in the age of coronavirus, the campaign is organizing a digital Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington for June 20, which the co-chairs said will be the “largest online gathering of poor and low-wealth people and all people of conscience in U.S. history.”

Hours after the op-ed was published, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide surpassed a million—more than a quarter of which are in the United States. Globally, over 51,000 have died, with at least 5,648 reported deaths in the U.S.

Posted in USAComments Off on ‘The Poor, the Sick, the Homeless, the Children, the Low-Wage Workers’

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