Critics in the United States who are raising concerns about the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package currently under discussion in the US Congress, which aims to increase government investment in the nation's struggling social safety net and worker protections, may be overlooking a critical aspect. The focus should not solely be on the price tag of the package but rather on the potential consequences for human rights, including the right to an adequate standard of living, workers' rights, and non-discrimination, if the US fails to make sufficient investments in these areas.
Throughout September, lawmakers are engaged in discussions about the specifics of what could be one of the most significant pieces of legislation in the United States in many generations. This legislation is designed to address the mounting economic and racial disparities that have left millions of people without access to affordable housing, healthcare, and essential protections.
The proposed spending package encompasses several key provisions:
Enhancing the right to affordable housing through substantial expansions of critical housing assistance programs and a historic investment in public housing, which is home to nearly two million Americans.
Establishing a permanent family and medical leave program.
Empowering a substantial number of workers to engage in collective bargaining for fair wages, adequate benefits, and safe working conditions by incorporating elements of the PRO Act, which limits companies' ability to discourage unions.
Reforming the drug pricing system and providing affordable health insurance coverage to millions with low incomes by closing the Medicaid coverage gap and making the Affordable Care Act's marketplace subsidies permanent.
Reducing child poverty by extending the Child Tax Credit expansion.
Implementing the largest federal investment in jobs aimed at addressing climate change.
Even if the reconciliation package is approved, there will still be work to be done in creating a robust safety net. US policymakers should expand eligibility for unemployment insurance, which, before the COVID-19 pandemic, excluded two-thirds of unemployed workers. Temporary expansions of unemployment benefits during the early stages of the pandemic prevented 5.5 million people from falling into poverty in 2020 without adversely affecting overall employment levels. These benefits should be made a permanent feature, extending to all workers, including those in app-based "gig" jobs, when they lose employment.
US Census Bureau data demonstrates the effectiveness of these types of benefits: in 2020, all combined government aid protected 53 million people in the US from falling into poverty. With 60 million adults still struggling to cover everyday expenses, legislators should refrain from diluting these reforms. Congress should seize this opportunity to prevent further hardship and safeguard essential benefits.