This holiday season, struggling families and businesses came close to getting a lump of coal from Congress. Only at the 11th hour, just three days before Christmas Eve and as critical relief programs were about to expire, did lawmakers manage to pass a $900 billion aid package.
The deal is a welcome stopgap. But the nearly 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus immediately made clear that in the next session, they will be demanding much more.
As the House was preparing to vote on the modest relief package, Rep. Pramila Jayapal was leading a virtual townhall to unveil The People’s Agenda, the top legislative priorities of the Progressive Caucus for 2021. The Seattle Democrat will chair the Caucus in the 117th Congress.
The People’s Agenda begins with multiple Covid relief actions that go beyond the just-passed package to meet the immense scale of the crisis, especially for people of color and poor and low-income Americans.
The Caucus aims, for example, to provide monthly stimulus checks of $2,000, significantly more than the $600 one-time payouts the new deal offers. They also demand action on many other urgent fronts that were left out of the 11th hour deal entirely, such as hazard pay and strong workplace health and safety protections for frontline workers and debt cancellation for holders of student and medical debt.
The Institute for Policy Studies joined with Kairos, Repairers of the Breach, and the Poor People’s Campaign to analyze the potential benefits of the People’s Agenda for the country, with a particular focus on women, people of color, and poor and low-income families.
Our joint fact sheet points out, for example, that canceling up to $50,000 in student debt would erase all debt for more than three-quarters of student loan borrowers and significantly narrow racial and gender wealth divides. Black and female graduates have heavier than average debt loads — and have a harder time paying them off because of racial and gender wage gaps. The just-passed deal did not extend a moratorium on student debt payments set to expire in February.
Without debt cancellation, millions of families will face painful decisions between making loan payments or buying food and other essentials.
The co-chairs of the non-partisan Poor People’s Campaign, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, and other movement leaders joined members of the Progressive Caucus at the People’s Agenda launch.
“The price of inequality is too high and the deaths from unjust policies are too many to not address,” Barber said. “The only way to heal the nation and have domestic tranquility is to first establish justice. This agenda sets us on the path towards doing just that.”