How might we slowly and safely get to our new normal as a nation? Front Porch asked this question of Rep. Jason Crow, who lives in the Aurora neighborhood of Stapleton and is a prominent freshman voice in the US House of Representatives, representing District 6. We’ll follow up on this question a month from now with Rep. Diana DeGette, who represents District 1.
What are your thoughts on the different proposals for reopening the country and how we might return to normal?
Testing is the key to returning to normalcy, to have a surveillance system that gives us an ability to know where the virus is, where the hot spots are, and who has it—and necessary to that is contact tracing. We need to drastically ramp up our testing capacity…that’s the near-term.
The mid-term is the need for antibody testing to find out who has had it already and who can return to work. Then the longer-term is continued expediting of a vaccine. That’s probably a year or more out, to have broad vaccinations across the country.
Through the use of the Defense Production Act, we need to drastically expand the industrial base for PPE [Personal Protective Equipment], and then restock not only the national stockpile, which was woefully insufficient from day one, but also restock the stockpiles at our hospitals and healthcare systems, schools, and places of work as well.
What are the gaps between the Democrats’ and Republicans’ approaches?
There are some gaps as to how quickly we can lift some of these stay-at-home orders. I think that needs to be data-driven and science-driven and medically-driven. There are people who are pushing to do it faster, and I think that would be a big mistake. The data shows us that we have been able to flatten the curve very successfully. We are on a trajectory to avoid some of the more extreme fatality levels because people are following the recommendations of public health officials. So it would be a mistake to think that we’re out of the woods and lift that early. That could reverse that trajectory and get back on a very extreme collision course. This could be much, much worse than it is even now, and it’s pretty bad right now.
The bigger area of disagreement right now is on the economic side. The Paycheck Protection Program, which is really the preeminent program to help support small businesses and to prevent layoffs right now through the CARES Act, ran out of money April 15. That was very quick, which means that the economic need is much deeper and broader than we expected.
We need to provide more money quickly into that program, but we also need to provide more money to SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] for food security, and for our hospitals and for our cities. Right now the Senate and most Republicans are only willing to do the business side of this, and they don’t want to do the public health and municipal support side of it. And that’s where the disagreement is right now.
The pandemic has raised awareness about our nation’s profound economic and racial inequities. What would you like to see the federal government do to ameliorate some of these systemic inequities?
You’re absolutely right that this crisis—not only the health component, but also the economic component—really has highlighted these inequalities; the African American and Latino communities are much more impacted.
It also shows that the fundamentals of our economy were not as strong as some people were saying. What I’ve known for a long time and what others have known for a long time is that homeownership is dropping, consumer debt is increasing, and, yes, people are working jobs, but they’re working two or three jobs without benefits. All of those things mean that the resiliency was very low—and that’s why, within a matter of a month, we’ve gone from a very low unemployment rate to one of the highest unemployment rates we’ve seen since the Great Depression. People who are living paycheck to paycheck can’t pay their rent, their mortgages, and buy food. We need to have a larger discussion about what needs to happen to make sure we’re actually supporting middle-class lifestyles and jobs.
One of the many things going on to address both the short-term crisis as well as the long-term structural challenges is broadband. We have seen there’s a wealth gap in broadband, but there’s also an urban-rural gap. You can’t have access to tele-health and tele-learning and remote working unless you have broadband, so broadband is an essential part of the public conversation. We’re working on getting that into a CARES 2.0 package.
Part of the issue of getting more money to schools in both an interim supplemental package and in a long-term package is that these schools have to buy iPads and Chromebooks for students. IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] funding—funding for our disabled students that need personalized learning programs—has been chronically underfunded for many, many years. There are numerous areas that have to be addressed in the short-term because people need the help now, but addressing these issues also will provide some long-term benefit if we do it in the right way.
Can you offer some ideas on how we might prevent the next pandemic?
We don’t have the institutions in place…to deal with a crisis on the nationwide level. We do not have the structure or the scale to deal with a crisis that sweeps the entire nation. So we really have to look at what type of restructuring of the government agencies, our communication systems, and our funding systems are necessary to be able to do this. This is not going to be the last pandemic we’re going to see, particularly with climate change, because it’s very well-known that one of the impacts of climate change will be increased pandemics. We have to have the larger conversation on what restructuring is necessary to better respond to this. It is abundantly clear that we were not ready.
Rep. Crow’s comments were lightly edited for length and clarity.