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Things We Should Have Learned from the Pandemic….But Didn’t

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This originally appeared in my Broke-Ass City Column for the San Francisco Examiner

Almost a year ago I wrote an article titled “How Coronavirus Might Save Us All.”It was the very start of quarantine and the piece argued that maybe, just maybe, this tragedy could be the catalyst we needed to fix the many broken systems that kept people underpaid, without health care and financially unstable. The article ended with this hesitantly optimistic thought: “When we come out of this, we must remember the lessons we learned and demand our government starts putting the welfare of its people before the profits of corporations.”

And here we are now. While the pandemic is far from over, and it’s vital that we don’t become complacent, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. If things go as planned, every adult in the U.S. will have the opportunity to be vaccinated by the summer. But as we lurch toward what the new normal will look like after this harrowing experience, I wonder, have the people in power learned anything? Yes, the new bill being passed by the Democratic majority in Congress is a solid step in the right direction, but actual working people who have survived this horrendous year know that child tax credits and health care discounts aren’t nearly enough. Here’s what we have learned:

We Need Universal Basic Income

We’re currently living though the biggest Universal Basic Income experiment ever. During this pandemic, tens of millions of Americans were able to stay fed and housed through a combination unemployment benefits, stimulus checks and straight up hustling. And what it’s shown is that, the government is completely capable of covering the basic needs of its citizenry and it should continue to do so, in perpetuity. The argument that doing so will cause people to be lazy and not work, gets trounced in every study. Most recently a UBI experiment in Stockton found that the financial security from a guaranteed $500 a month led to people getting better jobs and living healthier lives. If living through a pandemic where millions of jobs disappeared temporarily (hopefully) was this bad, imagine what it will be like when millions of jobs disappear permanently due to automation in the next 10 years. Call it a Freedom Dividend, an eternal stimulus or whatever, we need Universal Basic Income now.

We Need Medicare for All

Most of us have already experienced a taste of what Medicare for All could be like. Are you one of the lucky ones who have gotten a free vaccine already? How about a free COVID test? It’s ridiculous to think that we would have to pay for these things, right? They are paid for with our tax dollars, as they should be. And so should all of our health care. If you think it’s OK for the government to make sure we don’t die from this deadly disease, you should be OK with them making sure we don’t die from all deadly diseases. Throughout the pandemic, if you had no insurance and went to the hospital with COVID, the government picked up the bill. Even if you had insurance, most companies billed the government instead of the patient. So that means those times where all our hospitals were nearly full, our tax dollars were making sure our neighbors were looked after. That’s how it should always be. Medicare for All is possible, just ask every other developed nation in the world.

We Need Housing for All

Watching cities try to figure out what to do about a homelessness crisis during a pandemic was nearly as heartbreaking as it was frustrating. On top of that, if eviction moratoriums hadn’t been enacted, we would’ve had millions more homeless people right now. Housing is a human right and the federal government needs to treat it as such. One of the main reasons homelessness has gotten so bad in recent years is because, during the 12 years of the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, funding for Housing and Urban Development was slashed by 50%. Wealth doesn’t trickle down, but poverty does, and its effects take time and are cumulative. Refunding HUD would allow the federal government to better partner with state and local agencies to finally build enough housing for all Americans to live indoors.

We Need Universal Child Care

Anyone who has been at home with their kids for the past year should be able to cosign this one. But on top of that, even when not in a pandemic, having kids at home often stops lower income people from being able to achieve financial stability. If we create Universal Child Care, we’ll be creating millions of jobs in the child care industry and be helping families be able to earn more money to bring home.

A $15 Minimum Wage Isn’t Enough

I remember back in the summertime seeing a Whole Foods billboard thanking all essential workers. Disgustingly, it was the same week that Amazon announced it was cutting hazard pay for warehouse workers. Couple that with the fact that we couldn’t even get a $15 minimum wage passed in a Congress with a Democratic majority, and it’s obvious how little the people at the top value working people. If you don’t believe that the people who risked their lives so you could stay home and have sushi and fleshlights delivered to you, then you’re a piece of shit. On top of that, if the minimum wage kept pace with inflation, it would be $24 an hour right now.

While these are just some of the important changes we need to demand from our elected officials going forward, I’m sure many of you are wondering how we pay for all this. And it’s really simple:

Slash Military Spending: How is it that we can spend three quarters of a billion dollars on a single B-2 bomber but not afford health care?

Tax Billionaires a lot More: During the pandemic, billionaires got $2 trillion richer. To put that in perspective, the U.S. military budget is $721.5 billion. There’s no reason that they should be paying a smaller percent in taxes than working-class people.

End Corporate Welfare: The fact that our tax laws allow billion-dollar companies like Amazon and Apple to not pay taxes is a crime. Tesla has never been profitable but has received over $2 billion in government subsidies. Elon Musk is rich enough, let him bankroll his own damn company and we can use that money to take care of Americans instead.

These changes are unfortunately further off than any of us would like, but they need to happen if we want to build a more equitable county for everyone.

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Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle, "an SF cult hero":SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.

1 Comment

  1. Cadence
    June 9, 2021 at 10:23 am

    As long as basic necessities such as housing are allowed to be used for profit making, by allowing landlords to own multiple houses/apartments that they can’t even live in, then we will continue to have housing problems. It’s not that we need more housing, because there plenty of vacancies, is that people shouldn’t be allowed to own more than they can use. If we kept building more there’ll be no open air space left.
    Capitalism is an illness of never having enough. Treat it as such, and you’ll find a cure.