We Need a Recovery That Puts Workers First. And Yes, It's Urgent | Opinion

Nearly 40 percent of American households earning less than $40,000 a year lost their jobs in March.

That astounding statistic reveals the challenge before us, and the need for leaders to meet this moment with bold solutions that work for Main Street—not just Wall Street.

Yet in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the Republican majority leader of the U.S. Senate says he doesn't "think we have yet felt the urgency of acting immediately."

The people I talk to in Ohio feel the urgency. The businesses they work for have shut down, or they've had their hours cut back, or their child's daycare has closed and they have no paid family leave. Their company has started layoffs, or they've been furloughed with no return date on the horizon. They work at an essential job stocking shelves at the grocery store or delivering packages or caring for others' grandparents at a nursing home, but their employer doesn't provide health insurance or protective equipment to keep them safe. And we know a disproportionate number of these workers are women and black and brown people.

Congress needs to move quickly to get additional resources to workers, families and small businesses across the country. We can't rely on money to trickle down from corporations. We've seen that play run too many times before, and the result is always the same: Big banks and corporations pay themselves instead, and workers get left behind.

We saw it when President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress passed tax cuts that mostly benefited the ultra-wealthy and big corporations, with a promise that money would eventually flow to workers. It didn't. They promised if we slashed rules at banks, then banks would make affordable loans to businesses, which would then hire more workers at higher wages. They didn't.

Not only are the vast majority of workers and consumers not helped by these plans—they're also the ones who pay the price for them. Today's tax cuts for the superrich are used to justify future cuts to Social Security. Lax rules letting big banks off the hook today mean more bailouts tomorrow.

Instead, we need to cut out the middle man and put money directly in people's pockets.

Nearly 40 percent of Americans say they couldn't come up with $400 in an emergency without borrowing money. When millions of families are having those emergencies all at once, the government that's supposed to look out for them has to step in. Putting money in families' pockets helps them pay the bills, stay in their homes and get through this downturn. And it injects money into local economies that desperately need it—the more money people have, the more they can spend at small businesses that are hurting right now.

We have a plan to do that.

Unemployed workers
Protesters stand together asking the state of Florida to fix its unemployment system on May 22 in Miami Beach. Joe Raedle/Getty

First, we need additional rounds of stimulus checks. The checks of up to $1,200 per person that we passed in March were a good start, but we can and should do more. I released a plan with Senators Cory Booker and Michael Bennet from the beginning that called for bigger checks for more people—$2,000 per person, both adults and children. And they would be sent automatically throughout the year, every quarter, as long as we remained in a public health emergency.

Second, we need to expand the earned-income tax credit (EITC) and the child tax credit (CTC). Checks help people right now, and tax cuts for working families will give them reassurance that they'll have sustained support over the next year. The EITC and CTC are two proven effective tools for helping the families who are getting hurt the most right now.

Third, we must continue expanded unemployment benefits. When this many workers are out of a job, ensuring they can keep paying the rent or the mortgage and put groceries on the table is critical—it not only helps those who have lost their jobs but also helps other businesses stay afloat and keep their own workers on payroll.

Finally, we need to give all essential workers on the front lines of this crisis pandemic premium pay. Democrats have a plan for a Heroes Fund that would help reward, retain and recruit essential workers with a pay increase of up to $10,000, equivalent to a raise of $13 per hour. If we're going to call these workers "essential," we need to treat them that way.

The American people are doing their part. They're sewing homemade masks and planting modern-day victory gardens and staying home to slow the spread of this disease.

Leaders in Congress must do theirs, by putting people first during this crisis. That means putting more money in pockets of the people who make this country work.

Sherrod Brown is a U.S. senator from Ohio. He is ranking member on the Senate's Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee and also serves on the Agriculture, Finance and Veterans Committees.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.