I have been heartened by the way most Americans have rallied around our essential workers.
Every time I see people standing to thank these workers, I well up with tears. I have also been saddened by the magnitude of people who have lost their lives, and those who have lost their jobs and appear to have no ability to support their families.
Over my 40 years in public life, I have become worried, at times, by the selfishness I see. But those fears fade as I, once again, realize that we Americans always are at our generous best during times of crisis.
I remember a week after the tragic day of 9/11, the Yankees resumed playing baseball in a game in Chicago against the White Sox. The stands were awash with signs that read “We love New York,” which is an uncommon sentiment most of the time in Chicago. After 9/11, no matter where we lived in this country, we were all New Yorkers.
I have some faith that this tragic pandemic can pave the way for some significant changes in our society because this emergency has taught us a great deal about the fragility of our country.
But I am stunned by the fact that within two weeks of the stay-at-home orders, in almost every region of the country, hundreds of cars line up early in the morning at food banks because families don’t have enough savings or income to feed their families after being out of work for two or three weeks. That just isn’t right in the richest nation in the world.
I share the sentiment that we must thank the people who deliver our food, those working in our supermarkets, the bus drivers and train conductors, and the sanitation workers. But almost all of the workers we deem essential are grievously underpaid. It isn’t enough to thank them; we must raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour to give them a fairer, more decent life, and we must do that effective immediately.
It’s time to amend the SNAP program with a contingency fund each year that would allow the president or Congress to release resources to those in need during large or small emergencies. The same approach should be used to protect renters and low-income homeowners who have no choice but to fall behind in paying their monthly housing expenses.
The pandemic has exposed tremendous deficiencies in our health-care system. The fact that 30 million Americans have no health insurance or a way to pay for what they might need to fight off the virus is disgraceful. It long overdue for America to join the rest of the developed world and guarantee that every citizen has health-care coverage.
We must establish new powers for OSHA so that no American is forced to work in the conditions that have been exposed in our meat production plants.
The evidence is clear that we need to do a better job responding to emergencies. We should immediately recreate the Global Health Security team formed under Barack Obama to respond to pandemics. The total bill for that was relatively inexpensive and generated a 36-to-one return on investment.
And the Department of Homeland Security should be restructured to include a new office of crisis management responsible for planning and managing supplies and logistics in the event of a national emergency.
As the saying goes, “every crisis, creates opportunity.” It has been repeated so often that it seems like a cliché. But it is true. I know that from my own experience.
I hope and pray that our U.S. senators and members of Congress will react to the opportunities that this crisis has created to fix some of the endemic problems in our system that our response to the virus has exposed. There can be no jockeying for political advantage, just swift action to do what we know is right.
To make America great again, we must fix the issues that we now know for certain need fixing.