Giving Compass' Take:

• At Brookings, Adie Tomer and Joseph Kane outline the importance of protecting essential workers, such as those in grocery stores or health care facilities, from financial disaster.

• How can we help repay and protect essential workers who have sacrificed so much for others? What will it take to encourage those in charge of enforcing policy change?

• Learn more about your importance as a donor in this public health crisis.

Even with COVID-19 requiring social distancing for the weeks or months to come, the United States still requires an enormous class of workers to keep essential services online. The Department of Homeland Security uses a sweeping definition of such essential industries, which collectively employed anywhere from 49 to 62 million workers prior to the COVID-19 outbreak according to our highest estimates.

A portion of these essential workers will continue to report to their jobs at health care facilities, grocery stores, water utilities, and other work sites—all to ensure the rest of the country can maintain some semblance of a typical life during this health crisis. Yet many of the same workers were already at an economic disadvantage—generally earning lower wages and carrying less health-related insurance—before the crisis hit. In other words, it’s not just the total number of jobs that matters, but a better understanding of who these workers are and the risks they face.

Since many of these workers risk their lives to protect ours, the nation has a responsibility to protect the health and financial stability of these individuals and their families. Critically, Congress did too little to protect essential workers in the CARES Act. We propose a two-part federal policy response, to be carried out over a defined period, to fulfill this responsibility:

  • Provide a single $50,000 cash benefit to the spouse and dependents of any essential worker who dies from COVID-19.
  • Enroll any uninsured essential worker, their spouse, and their dependents in a new Medicare-COVID program, which would narrowly reimburse all COVID-19-related testing, hospital care, and future vaccinations. Essential workers with private insurance would receive federal reimbursement for any similar out-of-pocket expenses.

Read the full article about protecting essential workers by Adie Tomer and Joseph Kane at Brookings.