COVID-19 has caused unprecedented economic destruction in the U.S., and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act attempted to mitigate the damage to household finances by providing stimulus checks worth up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per dependent child to a large segment of the populace. Sadly, this money didn't actually do much to help most families because payments were too small relative to actual economic need.
As politicians discuss the idea of a second round of stimulus payments, a surprising new study from Zen Business found most people don't believe another paltry payment is the way forward when it comes to avoiding economic turmoil. In fact, the research revealed there are four things Americans believe would be more effective at preventing economic disaster than another check.
Here are the items that top our wish lists, along with some good news -- the CARES Act has already done some of them.
1. Provide paid sick leave
With health fears at the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic, it's not surprising this was the measure most supported by Americans. In fact, close to 88% of survey respondents said providing paid sick leave would be a highly effective way to prevent economic turmoil.
The good news is, the CARES Act already includes provisions requiring most employers to offer sick leave as long as employees need it because of COVID-19. In fact, workers are entitled to:
- Up to two weeks or 80 hours of paid leave at their regular rate of pay if they can't work because of a quarantine order or if they're awaiting a medical diagnosis while experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
- Up to two weeks or 80 hours of paid sick leave at two-thirds their regular rate of pay if they can't work because they're caring for someone subject to a quarantine order or caring for a child under 18 because schools or daycares closed due to the coronavirus.
The Act also offers people who have been employed for 30 or more days the opportunity to take up to 10 weeks of leave and receive two-thirds their normal rate of pay if they must care for a child whose school or daycare provider closed due to the coronavirus.
2. Offer free COVID-19 testing
Most experts agree that getting Americans back to work requires widespread testing for the novel coronavirus. And while workers recognize the importance of these tests, they don't want to foot the bill for them. That's why just over 86% of Americans indicate that free COVID-19 testing is an essential form of economic relief.
Thankfully, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the CARES Act put provisions in place requiring group health insurance policies, Medicare, Medicaid, and other private plans to cover COVID-19 testing free of charge with no co-pays, deductibles, or co-insurance costs.
For the uninsured, coronavirus relief bills also provided solutions, including expanding Medicaid funding and allowing states to use some of the money to cover tests for the uninsured even if they don't have Medicaid, as well as providing $1 billion to the National Disaster Medical System so providers can submit claims to get testing costs covered for the uninsured.
While these laws are a good start, some people do still end up incurring costs to get a COVID-19 test -- often because they accidentally went to an out-of-network provider or because they were required to undergo tests to rule out other conditions first (like the flu), and those other tests weren't free. So the government could do more to make sure that free tests really mean free.
3. Suspend eviction and foreclosures
Suspension of evictions and foreclosures was also high on the list of steps that would mitigate economic chaos, with almost 84% of Americans indicating this measure would be a highly effective form of relief.
Again, the CARES Act already provides some protection for those at risk of being removed from their homes. For example, borrowers who have federally insured mortgage loans (such as FHA loans) are protected from foreclosure for 60 days starting March 18, 2020. If they're experiencing COVID-19-related financial hardships, borrowers with federally guaranteed mortgages can also request 180 days of forbearance, which could be extended to pause payments for an additional 180 days if needed.
Landlords with government-backed mortgages or who receive certain government subsidies also cannot evict renters for nonpayment of rent through July 25, 2020, and cannot charge penalties or fees for nonpayment during that time frame.
While these provisions don't cover everyone, many states have gone further to pause evictions and foreclosures. And, as a practical matter, the temporary closure of courts in many areas means that these actions can't go forward anyway, even if landlords or lenders are allowed to pursue them.
4. Suspend the collection of rent
Finally, just over 82% of Americans believe putting a moratorium on the collection of rent would be a highly effective way to prevent economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Unfortunately, this one is a little more complicated because landlords generally rely on rental income to pay their own mortgages. The government hasn't suspended the collection of rent and isn't likely to in the future.
And although many renters are temporarily protected from eviction for nonpayment, this moratorium won't last forever, and they could end up owing a substantial amount of back rent if they don't pay. For that reason, paying your landlord as much as possible is a good idea even if you're experiencing temporary financial struggles. And if you can't pay, reach out and try to work out a payment plan so you don't have to worry about your landlord pursuing eviction when the CARES Act protections come to an end.
Will any of these ideas make it into another COVID-19 stimulus bill?
Although the CARES Act has already provided some of the items on Americans' wish lists, others, such as the suspension of rent collection, aren't very likely. Still, the chances of another COVID-19 stimulus bill are high as the country enters a recession. If you want to see expanded paid sick leave, more protection for renters, or more funding for coronavirus testing, now is the time to contact your representative and make your wishes known.