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Advocates For Domestic Workers, Voters, And Prisoners Express Alarm Over Trump’s Threat To End Stimulus Talks

Passing the HEROES Act would provide crucial protections to some of the most vulnerable essential workers, they say.

Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brown. Photo from Getty Images.

President Donald Trump’s declaration on Tuesday that he would end negotiations on the coronavirus stimulus bill will have dire consequences for domestic workers, voters, and prisoners, advocates say. 

“We are very disappointed with the president’s announcement,” Kevin Ring, president of FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums), told The Appeal in an email. “For months, families have been asking their elected leaders to keep their loved ones safe or send them home. They don’t care about the election; they care about keeping their loved ones alive.”

Trump first announced on Twitter that he was ending negotiations with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hours after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said that a second wave of COVID-19 could jeopardize economic recovery. Trump’s tweet led to a dramatic drop in the stock market Tuesday afternoon, and he later changed course, saying he was open to signing legislation specifically for $1,200 payments, $25 billion for airlines, and $135 billion for a program protecting small businesses. 

Pelosi had been negotiating with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin over legislation known as the HEROES Act, which would provide one-time $1,200 payments to adults (plus $500 per child) and restore $600 per week payments for people left unemployed by the pandemic. Twenty-two million jobs were lost during the lockdown in March and April, and though millions of jobs have been recovered since, people who work in service industries are at risk of losing work again should the country go into another lockdown.

In July, The Appeal chronicled how the country’s 4 million domestic workers—nannies, caregivers, and house cleaners—had been devastated by the lockdown. According to one survey, more than half could not afford rent in April because the new restrictions put in place to protect against the coronavirus meant that jobs were either lost or hours were cut. Advocates urged lawmakers to pass the HEROES Act, which would ensure hazard pay, cash assistance, and help accessing essentials. 

“The recent news that two members of the housekeeping department at the White House contracted COVID underscores the danger domestic workers face every day as they continue to work on the frontlines of the pandemic,” the National Domestic Workers Alliance told The Appeal in a statement. “These essential workers urgently need a relief package.”

While the one-time and weekly payments are the best known features of the HEROES Act, it would also include extensive provisions designed to protect prisoners from the pandemic. Currently, there are 119 federal prisons with active coronavirus cases, and at least 138,000 state prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Among the features of the bill, federal prisoners who are children, over 50, or have certain medical conditions would be placed in community supervision programs such as home confinement unless there is evidence that the person poses a threat of violence. It would also decrease the number of people who are held in jail while awaiting trial. Additionally, since lockdowns have resulted in visitation suspension in many facilities, the legislation would impose limits on how much correctional facilities could charge for telephone and video calls. 

The Democrat-controlled House passed the first version of the HEROES Act in May and a revised version at the beginning of the month, both of which contain $3.6 billion in funding to be distributed to states for the “planning, preparation, and resilience of elections.” The money could be used for mail-in and curbside voting and COVID-19 protections for poll workers and voters. A Republican version of the stimulus bill did not include any money for election funding. 

“This is voter suppression in action,” said Jana Morgan, director of the coalition Declaration for American Democracy, in a statement on Tuesday after Trump’s announcement. “Despite these efforts to suppress the vote, over four million people have already made their voices heard this election. The president and Senate Republicans must stop playing partisan politics with our democracy and work to pass a stimulus bill now.”