by James M Abrusci
April 1, 2020
“It is Justice, and not Charity, which is the principle of the plan”
—Thomas Paine, Agrarian Justice
The sudden outbreak of Coronavirus has led to many changes in peoples’ lives. Many Morton College students will have heard about the recent stimulus package passed by the government, and many students are eligible for the benefits in the package. The $1,200 check is the most talked about item, but is that enough, and is that all that’s at stake?
In March, the government passed a $2 trillion stimulus package in response to the economic shutdown amid Coronavirus fears. The buzzword that people are hearing is “$1,200”, which is the amount an adult would receive if they filed taxes in 2019 and made less than $75,000 that year. There’s an additional $500 available for each child you have.
Federal unemployment benefits will be expanded in addition to existing state benefit programs, and benefits will also be extended. In Illinois, the maximum benefit is currently $471 per week for up to 26 weeks. The new federal stimulus benefits will add an additional $600 per week, totaling $1071, and it will add an additional 13 weeks of benefits, totaling 39 weeks.
Federal student loan interest has been frozen for 2 months. Automatic student loan payments have been frozen until Sept. 30th. Wage garnishment due to federal loans has been frozen.
In the United States, most people obtain health insurance through their employer. In the last week of March, over 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits. Millions more are expected to follow suit. If you lost your job in March, the last day you could use your health insurance was likely on March 31st. On April 1st, America woke up to a grim reality, and it was no joke.
In the United States alone, our own government estimates that over 100,000 people could die to Covid-19. For perspective, 117,000 Americans died during World War I. And in a good year, it’s estimated that almost 70,000 Americans already die every year due to a lack of health care. It’s being widely reported that people are avoiding hospitals out of fear of getting sick.
Our health care system is operating with a just-in-time, maximum efficiency model, which is showing strain under the sudden demand for care, and this systemic strain could result in a loss of life. Many hospitals have begun to ration care, and they’re asking people who do not have true emergencies to stay home. Many health care workers have reported that they lack basic personal protective equipment, and say they feel exposed to the virus.
A few benevolent health insurance companies have waived costs related to Covid-19 testing and treatment, but others have yet to take these steps. Many people have posted their hospital bills on social media after receiving treatment for Covid-19, and, even with insurance, people reported out of pocket costs as high as $1,500. One poor soul who lacked insurance received a bill for $35,000.
By May 1st, the peak of the viral infection will have hopefully passed. But by then, millions of Americans will have been out of work for over a month, they may have medical bills from Covid-19, and rent will still be due. Many city and state governments have already enacted laws which protect renters from being evicted during the crisis, but many haven’t, and many more won’t. Millions of Americans are unsure whether they will have a roof over their heads.
In the stimulus bill, there is eviction protection for renters in buildings insured by the federal government, but this only represents 8 million of the more than 44 million Americans that rent. Technically, landlords can begin to evict tenants on May 1st if they haven’t paid rent, even if they were unable to pay due to Coronavirus.
Many tenants have threatened landlords with rent strikes, and some businesses have openly refused to pay their upcoming rents and mortgages.
In this time of crisis, Americans are becoming reliant on the Charity of their landlord, and the Charity of health insurance corporations, rather than relying on their government to secure their human rights, and this, Thomas Paine would agree, is an insufferable situation.
“…time was not passing…it was turning in a circle…”
― Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude