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Several leaders from the Congressional Progressive Caucus and national progressive organizations have joined to launch the #PutPeopleFirst campaign in an effort to get key priorities included in the next coronavirus relief package. The #PutPeopleFirst campaign aims to cover all people in this country impacted by the current COVID-19 pandemic regardless of age, dependency, disability, employment, incarceration, or immigration status.

This current push comes as Congress and the Trump administration are working on a deal for a new round of coronavirus response funding, including additional funding for small businesses after the small business loan fund ran out last week. Stimulus payments currently being disbursed left several groups without any recourse for assistance, from farmworkers to students and younger adults to sex workers.

During a Monday afternoon press conference, Rep. Pramila Jayapal stressed the need for people-first action. “If we are going to climb out of this crisis, we need bold solutions that match the scale of the crisis we’re facing today,” she said. “And if we are going to beat the virus, we need to keep people home and expand testing. If we are going to keep people home, we need to be sure we stop the mass unemployment and keep paychecks coming for workers across the country.” 

Jayapal was joined by her Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Mark Pocan and caucus members Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, along with leaders from United We Dream, Indivisible, MoveOn, and Community Change Action.

Expanding upon demands first made in an April 9 letter to House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Congressional Progressive Caucus proposed several measures that sought to prevent layoffs and protect small businesses and nonprofits, give immediate and direct relief to individuals and families, protect public health, and ensure safe elections. Proposed measures go beyond stop gap measures to “lay the foundation for a just and resilient recovery.”  

Pocan laid out the four core demands:

1) Keeping people on payrolls through a paycheck guarantee.

2) Providing direct financial relief to people, including expanding food aid and keeping people from losing their homes.

3) Ensuring public health coverage, testing, and treatment for all as well as universal OSHA protections for healthcare workers.

4) Defending federal elections with expanded access to vote-by-mail.

“Let me be clear, mass unemployment is a policy choice,” Jayapal said. She made the case for a federal paycheck guarantee, which would hasten the end of mass unemployment and provide needed resources for small businesses and nonprofits. Jayapal also pointed to the many other countries taking steps to protect people in this way. According to Jayapal, the proposed paycheck guarantee would cover wages up to $100,000 and work with the IRS and treasury to deliver money directly to small businesses and nonprofits bypassing issues with banks.

Lorella Praeli, president of Community Change Action, challenged the notion that COVID-19 was a great equalizer, noting the various communities that have been disproportionately impacted and simultaneously left out of prior relief efforts.

“‘People first’ in the next package really means people first, and people means everyone,” Praeli said. “This will require us to center our shared fate and stand up for each other so that nobody— from frontline healthcare workers to grocery clerks to farmworkers—is expendable.”

Anoa Changa

Anoa Changa is a journalist and organizer focused on innovating electoral justice coverage. Follow her on Twitter at @thewaywithanoa.