ACLU Statement on the COVID-19 Package

December 21, 2020 6:30 pm

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WASHINGTON — Ronald Newman, national political director for the American Civil Liberties Union, issued the following statement in response to the joint spending and COVID-19 relief legislation to address the broad impacts of the pandemic:

“Life-saving relief for everyone in the United States is much overdue. Congress is right to finally act, and millions of Americans will benefit. But this relief legislation has real shortcomings. While the bill takes important steps forward to protect rights and provide relief for some, it excludes far too many of our neighbors, friends, and family members.

“Members of Congress rightly extended the federal eviction moratorium to prevent millions from being evicted from their homes this holiday season. Regrettably, Congress provided just $25 billion for rental assistance funding, which is far short of what is actually needed — a step in the right direction, but one that will leave out too many.

“The legislation fails to address the COVID-19 crisis in our nation’s jails and prisons, where COVID-19 infections and deaths continue to outpace the general population, with reported cases 4.1 times higher and deaths 2.1 times higher. The legislation does, however, finally repeal the provisions in the 1994 crime bill that prohibited incarcerated students from receiving Pell grants, and repeals a 1998 law that prohibited students convicted of drug offenses from receiving federal financial aid. These are important reforms that will help hundreds of thousands of people.

“The bill also provides over $3 billion to help low-income families, job seekers, students, and others afford access to broadband internet during the pandemic. The funds are a big step in the right direction, and a down payment on ensuring sufficient internet access for everyone.

“However, the package unreasonably provides $1.375 billion more for Trump’s border wall and funds immigration detention at more than double the number of immigrants currently detained by ICE. There is widespread opposition to the border wall and the needless detention of immigrants, and it is inexplicable that Congress is making this tradeoff.

“The legislation also fails to adequately protect immigrants in our communities. The bill finally provides long-overdue cash payments to mixed-status families who were excluded from prior relief. However, it still leaves out many families who have U.S. citizen children. It also fails to ensure testing and treatment, including vaccines, for everyone. Leaving tens of millions of people without guaranteed access to COVID-19-related care is not only heartless, but self-defeating. Public health experts have been clear: Until all of us are covered, all of us are at risk.

“Congress must heed the advice of public health experts and provide comprehensive care coverage. Our elected representatives can and must do better with the next bill.”

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