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People wear medical masks amid the coronavirus outbreak, walking around the streets of New York on January 30, 2020.

People wear medical masks amid the coronavirus outbreak, walking around the streets of New York on January 30, 2020. (Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Denouncing Trump's Wealthy-Favoring Plan, Progressive Groups Demand Lawmakers Draft Just Economic Coronavirus Response

Instead of payroll tax cuts, groups call for measures including boosted investment in safety net programs and guaranteed paid sick leave.

Andrea Germanos

Over a dozen progressive groups on Wednesday called on federal lawmakers to develop a speedy response to the economic impacts of the coronavirus outbreak—but urged Congress to the solution centers the needs of those most affected by the crisis and not those of the wealthy.

The call was issued in a letter to members of Congress from 13 groups including AFL-CIO, Economic Policy Institute, and Public Citizen. It came a day after the Trump administration floated the idea of cutting the payroll tax, the primary funding mechanism for Social Security, as a strategy to counteract the economic impact of the pandemic and just before Senate Republicans blocked the advancement of legislation that would have guaranteed paid leave amid the outbreak.

Payroll tax cuts as well as "corporate tax cuts and other tax-law changes (such as indexing capital gains) that primarily benefit the wealthy, who are most insulated from the crisis, should be avoided," wrote the groups, calling such measures "undesirable tax strategies" that are unwise and unfair.

The "payroll tax cuts provide the largest weekly payout to those who least need them and are least likely to spend them," the groups explained, while "workers laid off and those unable to find employment due to the Covid-19 emergency would of course get nothing at all."

According to the groups, better approaches include cash payments to households, ramping up investment in safety net programs including Medicare "to better treat the disease and relieve the financial strain on families and local governments of greater healthcare costs," and federal coverage of "all related costs of the public health emergency, such as increased healthcare spending, public education campaigns, additional funds to administer Unemployment Insurance benefits, and economic support of businesses and citizens."

An appropriate response plan would help address the economic and societal impacts of not just the novel coronavirus but also future public health emergencies that may be in store in the future.

"Other short and long-term reforms that will better prepare us for the next health emergency include guaranteed paid sick leave to slow the spread of infection; universal healthcare so that the sick can afford to seek treatment before they get sicker; and greater investment in public health agencies to more quickly find vaccines and cures," said the groups.

The president's proposal to slash the payroll tax has already drawn rebuke from others this week, including Social Security Works.

"Donald Trump is using the coronavirus crisis as an excuse to propose a reduction in payroll contributions," the group said Tuesday. "This is a Trojan Horse attack on our Social Security system, which will do nothing to meaningfully address the crisis at hand."

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), in a Wednesday tweet, gave a similar assessment.

"Donald Trump is trying to use a global pandemic to give a windfall to corporate America and pay for it by raiding your hard-earned Social Security and Medicare," he said.

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