Coronavirus “devastating for low-income families,” says Rep. Kennedy

Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy III said on CBSN Friday that the federal government needs to do more to address the fact that the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected low-income Americans. He says further financial and medical assistance are needed.

Massachusetts has the third highest death rate from the coronavirus of any state, with 4,552 deaths, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University. Infections are particularly high among Latinos in the Boston area, a fact that the congressman said is particularly troubling to him.  

Kennedy, a Democrat, represents the state’s fourth district, which includes the western suburbs of Boston. Despite a statewide decline in the rate of infection, the city of Chelsea, just outside of Boston, “has an infection rate that is six times that of the state average,” Kennedy said. 

“I was in Chelsea delivering meals on Tuesday, I have never seen as long a food line in my entire life, and I have lived in multiple countries in the developing world,” he said. “It’s been devastating for lower income communities, for low income families, for immigrant families as well.”

“It’s having devastating impacts on their health, and that’s where our aid and our resources need to be focused to get out of this,” he said.

Kennedy, along with Washington Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, has introduced a Medicare Crisis Program Act . According to a May 1 press release from Jayapal’s office, “the legislation would expand Medicare and Medicaid eligibility during the crisis, cap out-of-pocket costs for Medicare enrollees, and eliminate co-pays, coinsurance or deductibles for COVID-19 testing and related care.”

When asked how he expects to convince Republicans to support the legislation, Kennedy said the virus’s indiscriminate nature threatens all Americans. 

“If there’s a central lesson from this moment, it’s that your health and my health are linked,” he said. “That’s why people are wearing masks, it’s to protect you from infecting somebody else and somebody else from infecting you. If we’re going to get through this, we have to stop the spread. And you’re not going to stop the spread if you’re intentionally leaving millions of Americans out of health care coverage.”

The proposed legislation would allow those who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus to enroll in Medicare, as well as expand Medicaid, according to Kennedy. “All those jobless numbers we just heard, for those folks who have employer sponsored health care, that health care might be gone,” he said. 

The congressman also addressed a new bill proposed by Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey this week that would give $2,000 stimulus checks to lower-income Americans on a monthly basis. Kennedy said he proposed a similar plan “months ago” that would give each $4,000 to any individual making less than $100,000 a year. 

Kennedy is challenging Markey in the Democratic primary for his Senate seat.

Kennedy said the Senate’s original $1,200 stimulus checks intended to ease the financial pain from the coronavirus were “grossly inadequate” for  low-income Americans. The government has run into a number of glitches in sending the checks, delaying their arrival for many in need. 

“The insight here is that if you’re going to try to ask the American public to stay home and focus on their health, and not infect other people, you need to be able to give them the financial ability to actually withstand that time when they’re not going to get a paycheck,” he said. 

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