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Report: Pandemic Calls for “Wartime Equality” Response

A policy brief calls for all health insurance to cover testing and treatment for COVID-19. (Tyler Olson/Adobe Stock)
A policy brief calls for all health insurance to cover testing and treatment for COVID-19. (Tyler Olson/Adobe Stock)
March 19, 2020

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- An independent policy research project has released a brief outlining steps to guard against the burdens of the COVID-19 pandemic falling disproportionately on the poor.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center says the Keystone State should embrace the moral equivalent of wartime equality in its response to the pandemic.

State spending on public health is at the top of the list.

According to Marc Stier, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, at about $13 per person, Pennsylvania ranks 45th in the nation in spending on public health.

"State spending on public health has remained unchanged since 2008," he points out. "I want to make sure the state has enough money to do the testing and the reporting that we need."

The brief also calls for safeguarding against economic impacts by strengthening the state's unemployment system and securing access to public benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Stier points out that helping low-income people secure and retain cash benefits during the pandemic not only helps those who have the least, it also helps sustain the state's economy.

"The economy is declining in the state as everywhere else in the country and the world, and we need people to have money to keep buying things as they can to keep the economy going," he states.

Stier adds that an economic recession will increase the demand for state spending such as unemployment insurance and Medicaid while simultaneously reducing revenues.

But Stier cautions against balancing the state budget by repeating the massive cuts to education, Medicaid and other programs that were cut 10 years ago.

"The state has to think about raising taxes on the wealthiest Pennsylvanians who are not being hurt by this crisis in the same way that everyone else is, and who pay far less than middle class people and working people now in taxes to the state as a share of their income," Stier states.

He says a rapid federal response to the economic impact of the pandemic will be critical to ensuring that the burden is shared equally.

Disclosure: Keystone Research Center, Inc. contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA