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Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington, speaks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing December 12, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Edelman -Pool/Getty Images)

Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington, speaks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing December 12, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Edelman -Pool/Getty Images)

We Can and Must Do Better: Why I Will Vote No on the HEROES Act

Our response here in Congress must match the true scale of this devastating crisis. The Heroes Act—while it contains many important provisions—simply fails to do that.

Pramila Jayapal

U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, issued the following statement regarding today’s House vote on the Heroes Act: 

People across every part of the United States are facing an unprecedented crisis—one that directly impacts their jobs, their health and their daily lives. We have now lost more than 86,000 Americans, almost 30,000 more than we lost during two decades of the Vietnam War. For weeks, I have been clearly and consistently ringing the alarm bells that the next COVID-19 package must deliver real relief and certainty to people and businesses across the country so that they know how they will survive this crisis—both from health and economic perspectives, which are deeply intertwined.

At the core, our response from Congress must match the true scale of this devastating crisis. The Heroes Act—while it contains many important provisions—simply fails to do that.

"I believe we can and must put forward a legislative package that meets the real needs of my constituents and people across the country who are desperate for Congress to have their backs, to help them get money back in their pockets and give them some certainty about being able to pay their bills and put food on the table. A package that ensures everyone has health care, that helps businesses to survive this crisis and that protects the rights of workers to get the pensions they already earned and were counting on."

This legislation does not keep workers in their jobs and guarantee the certainty of paychecks. More than 36 million people have filed for unemployment in only eight weeks and a full 40% of households earning less than $40,000 lost a job in March alone. Mass unemployment is a choice and we cannot wait to let the rate of unemployment rise to 40% or 50%, which it will do if we do not act boldly. This is the highest level of unemployment we have seen since the Great Depression and we cannot sit idly by and only offer half measures or let it rise.

This legislation does not guarantee affordable and accessible health care for everyone. More than 27 million people have lost their health care simply because they lost their job, joining the 87 million people who were already uninsured or underinsured. We are in the midst of a health pandemic that has already taken more than 86,000 lives, with tens of thousands more deaths projected. Now, more than ever, people need to know their access to health care is guaranteed.

This legislation does not provide enough relief to businesses—including small, medium and minority-owned businesses—which are the backbone of our economy. Every day, employers are watching in horror as the businesses they built over years fall by the wayside and shutter permanently. Our businesses and our workers are proud of the work they do and we should be supporting this critical and productive relationship as a first order of business by helping businesses to survive, not pouring more money into things that don’t work. Nor does this legislation do enough to tie funding for states to public health guidelines so that businesses do not have to worry about putting their workers in harm’s way and re-opening before it is safe to do so.

I am also disappointed that, in a last minute change, this legislation includes language that threatens the pensions of regular working people and harms collective bargaining, undermining existing pension plans and exposing retirees to greater risks. At a time when we should be strengthening collective bargaining and worker power, this legislation does the opposite.

I believe we can and must choose differently. That is why I will vote against this legislation.

I believe we can and must put forward a legislative package that meets the real needs of my constituents and people across the country who are desperate for Congress to have their backs, to help them get money back in their pockets and give them some certainty about being able to pay their bills and put food on the table. A package that ensures everyone has health care, that helps businesses to survive this crisis and that protects the rights of workers to get the pensions they already earned and were counting on.

As I was deciding how to vote, I went back and looked at the hundreds of calls and letters that have come in from my constituents. I wanted to know if I could honestly tell them that this bill would help them with the devastation they are facing. I cannot say that it does and so I will vote no and choose differently.

"I choose differently for so many who not only tell me they lost their jobs and lost their employer-sponsored health care too, but they can't afford COBRA and have decided to 'risk it' instead, while insurance companies scoop up additional subsidies from this package."

I choose differently for Adrienne, who lost her paycheck when the pandemic struck and instead of receiving unemployment checks in the mail, receives letters informing her that rent and bills are due. I choose differently for the family of six who lost their paychecks and have yet to receive their stimulus checks. I choose differently for the hair stylist who said they haven’t received unemployment benefits in 13 weeks and the event venue staffer who hasn’t received any in eight.

I choose differently for so many who not only tell me they lost their jobs and lost their employer-sponsored health care too, but they can’t afford COBRA and have decided to “risk it” instead, while insurance companies scoop up additional subsidies from this package.

I choose differently for Ellen and Aran, business owners in my district who have written to me about their frustrations with a PPP program that picks winners and losers as they’re forced to lay off workers. I choose differently for those who have called because they are worried about having to return to work before it is safe, and those like Xan who tell me they already have.

Congress must be honest with ourselves and with our constituents: The historic public health and economic crisis Americans are facing will not end on its own. We must beat the virus. To beat the virus, we must keep people home. To keep people home, we must make sure they get their paycheck, can access their health care and don’t feel pressured to return to work before it’s safe. That’s the only way that we can give the American people real relief and certainty before this crisis gets worse—because if we fail to do so, it will.

While this legislation has some good elements, it ultimately fails to match the scale of this crisis. I believe we can and must do better. This is urgent and the American people cannot wait. We must choose differently.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Pramila Jayapal

Pramila Jayapal is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives where she represents Washington state's 7th District. Follow her on Twitter: @RepJayapal

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