COVID-19: ‘Congress Must Cover Paychecks of Every US Worker,’ Says Sanders

The Vermont senator is backing a bill to bring the U.S. closer to  Germany’s approach to unemployment during the pandemic, reports Jake Johnson.

Senator Bernie Sanders in June 2020. (YouTube)

By Jake Johnson
Common Dreams

Senator Bernie Sanders on Monday said Congress should pass legislation to “cover the paychecks of every U.S. worker” as many small businesses struggle to apply for taxpayer-backed loans to keep their employees on payroll and laid-off workers grapple with outdated and punitively complex unemployment systems.

“A furloughed German worker retains 90-100% of his salary, while his American counterpart is struggling to obtain unemployment benefits. Unacceptable,” Sanders tweeted, linking to a VICE article by journalist Clio Chang contrasting how the U.S. and German governments are responding to the economic downturn caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic.

“Depending on how their country is handling the situation,” Chang noted, “the first month of this historic recession has gone drastically different for different workers.”

Chang compared the experiences of a U.S. worker and a German worker, both of whom were laid off in recent weeks.

“Jonathan Bowen calls the Oregon unemployment office hundreds of times a day. Or at least he has since March 21, when he first applied online after losing his job as a cook at a small taqueria. Bowen was told then that his claim wasn’t valid and that he had to call the office, so he did. Every week, he still puts in his claims, in order to create a record of how long he’s been unemployed. One day, the 38-year-old estimated that he called the office over 1,000 times.


A few weeks before Bowen lost his job, Daniel Flohr, a 33-year-old part-time flight attendant, was sent home from work. Flohr lives more than 5,000 miles away from Portland, in an apartment an hour outside of Frankfurt, Germany, and has been working as a flight attendant for more than ten years. Because of the existing contract that was negotiated between his company and his works council, Flohr’s basic salary is still being paid in full. At the end of April, he expects for his pay to go down to 90 percent of his salary, with most of that coming through Kurzarbeit, Germany’s short-term work scheme.”

On Saturday, Sanders and three other senators introduced a bill to bring the U.S. closer to the German approach by guaranteeing wages and benefits for employees of businesses harmed by the ongoing economic downturn.

The Paycheck Security Act, according to a detailed summary (pdf) released by Sanders’ office, would for at least the next six months “cover salaries and wages up to $90,000 for each furloughed or laid-off employee, plus benefits, as well as up to an additional 20 percent of revenues to cover fixed operating costs such as rent, utilities, insurance policies, and maintenance.”

Companies would have to meet a number of requirements to qualify for federal grants under the bill, including offering all workers laid off since Feb. 1, 2020 their jobs back and not cutting pay or benefits.

Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) joined Sanders in unveiling the legislation, which is similar to a proposal released earlier this month by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).

“With 22 million Americans filing for unemployment and up to 35 million expected to become uninsured, we are the only wealthy nation on Earth where our people are losing jobs and healthcare at precisely the moment that they need them the most,” Sanders said in a statement. “This is a man-made crisis. Our job now is to join the rest of the industrialized world and pass the Paycheck Security Act.”

The massive stimulus package President Donald Trump signed into law last month, titled the CARES Act, authorized a $600-per-week increase in unemployment benefits on top of what states normally provide.

But many laid-off workers have struggled to obtain their benefits due to antiquated federal and state systems that have been overwhelmed with claims in recent weeks as the coronavirus crisis keeps large swaths of the U.S. economy completely shuttered.

“Many states have such outdated technology—which also rely on decades-old software—that their systems have struggled to make unemployment aid available for gig workers and self-employed workers who don’t normally qualify for money but were made eligible by the new law,” the Washington Post reported last week. “Florida has resorted to handing out paper applications and said this week it has a backlog of 850,000 applications. So far, the state has sent money to only 34,000 people.”

Additionally, a CARES Act loan program designed to help small businesses cover payroll costs has already run out of money as many companies on the verge of collapse await their loans.

Josh Bivens, director of research at the Economic Policy Institute, said in a statementendorsing the Paycheck Security Act that “workers and their families are paying the price for going into the current crisis with a weak social insurance system and public safety net.”

“Given this pre-existing weakness, transformative responses to this economic crisis have to be put together on the fly,” Bivens said, “and the Paycheck Security Act is a bold solution to provide needed relief during the lockdown period of the crisis and would put us in much better position to mount a rapid recovery once the public health all-clear was sounded.”

Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams. Follow him on Twitter: @johnsonjakep

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13 comments for “COVID-19: ‘Congress Must Cover Paychecks of Every US Worker,’ Says Sanders

  1. Jeff
    April 24, 2020 at 07:56

    Any real “change” Presidential candidate that has loved ones is a target for threats against those loved ones. The only way to get good candidates is to insist they contractually stay in races and fulfill party platforms with private contracted security teams. Anything less is a waste of time.

  2. Kieron
    April 23, 2020 at 04:18

    Bernie seems you to like to dip in and dip out when he pleases. A wonderful sentiment regarding proving funds to help those most in need. However, your socialist callings don’t match your actions. You again bailed out of a run for POTUS and ruined the hopes of millions of Americans hoping for social change. Then to boot you threw your support behind Biden.
    Hang your boots up Bernie, you simply aren’t listened to or trusted anymore.

  3. Jared
    April 22, 2020 at 23:57

    The plan shuffles billions of dollars to capitalist bosses in exchange for various ‘commitments’ not to lay people off. It does nothing for the millions of workers employed in the gig economy and it does nothing for the 22 million who have been laid off over the past four weeks (besides securing a “commitment” from bosses to rehire workers if they accept the grant). What’s to stop the bosses from taking the money and not hiring anyone back anyway or even laying off more workers? Bernie assures us that the IRS Fraud Department will be on the case, but the IRS has been badly underfunded for more than a decade and there are surely plenty of lawyers willing to argue that breaking a “commitment” is not the same thing as fraud.

    Why pay the bosses and not the workers directly? Bernie suggested the answer in his white paper: “This will help keep workers attached to their employers…” Indeed. This act will not pay a single worker unless that worker maintains a dependent and exploitative relationship with his boss. What kind of socialist calls for passing money out to the bourgeoisie? I’ll tell you. No kind of socialist. That’s who! Either Bernie’s new friend Joe Biden has been rubbing off on him recently, or — to butcher Twain — the reports of Bernie’s socialism have been greatly exaggerated.

  4. Piero Colombo
    April 22, 2020 at 23:41

    “‘Congress Must Cover Paychecks of Every US Worker,’ Says Sanders”

    And who’s gonna make them do it? Sanders?

  5. peter shapiro
    April 22, 2020 at 18:16

    unless he can produce results, bernie has joined his pal othebomber with nice words, and betrayal……results means a
    law that will pass trump’s veto…

    • GMCasey
      April 22, 2020 at 21:13

      peter shapiro :

      What was Bernie to do, as Joe wasn’t willing to debate, nor was the DNC. Oh and DNC you really need to get rid of those privately owned voting machines. As the DNC was trying to ignore him, Bernie went back to work on what he was representing for America in the first place. I vote by mail in May, and Bernie is on the ballot. If Joe drops dead in his basement—what would the DNC do…? Probably they’d run Hillary or Cuomo. Well, that would kill off that party—but that, I think , would be a good thing.

    • Selina
      April 22, 2020 at 21:54

      I have been very curious about the apparent spinelessness of my fellow Americans. I remember the Vietnam War protests, the anti-Nuclear protests and the civil rights protests, and the House Un-American protests. We’ve witnessed crimes (e.g. child abuse at the border) done in our name. Did we stop traffic? Did we stop airplanes? Did we show up in massive numbers? Nope. And, after having visited columns such as this one and those on other left leaning sites where the regular citizen speaks her/his mind to their compatriots, I have witnessed mountains of pure sourness and infinite piles of ridicule and bile expended in the direction of people in office and people running for office. And bile continuing to be directed to elections over and done with years ago. What a waste of energy! Anger, frustration, rage are hardwired for survival purposes. They require – not acting out – but action in service of restoring balance and right relation. Mouthing off here merely increases the reservoir of personal anger. A cheap power high for a moment. Ego loves it. But, without meaningful self-assertion, these feelings simply eat away whatever Will one might have had. Maturity requires taking the risk to make a stand. Obsessive omplaining here is but a cheap sterile thrill.

  6. Susan
    April 22, 2020 at 18:08

    Why are we still talking about Sanders he checked out and endorsed a neocon rapist racist. I honestly don’t know who he is anymore. We are in a crises and we have 0 leaders in this country. Joe dementia will likely start WW3

    • Selina
      April 22, 2020 at 22:06

      My way or oblivion? Is that it? As though Bernie’s value depended wholly on outcome, winning the presidency? Kind of a corporate/business “bottom line” approach. How deeply the attitudes of us Americans have been so saturated with market place and gaming frames! Nothing counts but “landing the deal”, winning, the take over. That we throw away so handily a man who gave his heart and soul to enlightening younger Americans of the kinds of economic and social justice rights that MLK spoke about. Saddening, really.

    • Calgacus
      April 23, 2020 at 12:35

      Thanks for the refreshing blasts of good sense, Selina!

  7. William H Warrick III MD
    April 22, 2020 at 14:28

    The author’s point is obvious but Bernie is to weak to make it happen.

    • April 22, 2020 at 16:56

      I think that remains to be seen. This is the season for progressives to wring every bit of movement they can by Biden. And Democrats are starting to come under fire for doing so little for the people during this virus pandemic.

    • Piero Colombo
      April 22, 2020 at 23:42

      “Too weak”… look how strong he is when it comes to declaring war to all targets of the US Empire.

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