As the coronavirus crisis worsens, with more than half a million cases and more than 20,000 deaths in the U.S. alone, it is imperative that our government focus on addressing the crisis with urgency and justice, instead of using it as an excuse to advance harmful political agendas.

Frontline workers — such as doctors, nurses, hospital cleaning staff, sanitation workers, transit operators, and grocery store workers — are going to work without adequate protective equipment. It should be a top priority to put every available resource to provide proper lifesaving equipment for these workers.

The coronavirus crisis is disproportionately causing illness and deaths in Black and Indigenous communities, immigrant communities, and low-income households, revealing all of our ugly systemic inequalities.

People in these communities are overrepresented in the essential workforce, likeliest to be forced to work without protection, likeliest to be exposed to deadly particulate matter pollution that exacerbates coronavirus risks, and likeliest to not have adequate healthcare coverage if they get sick. Another top priority of our government should be to take effective measures to arrest the spread of the virus in these communities.

In addition to the public health crisis, the country faces an economic crisis, with more than 16 million newly unemployed workers. Many were low-wage hotel, restaurant, and retail workers, and were economically insecure to begin with. Another top governmental priority should be to provide immediate, ongoing assistance to all unemployed workers and their families, including undocumented workers.

Instead, our government is cynically taking advantage of the crisis to justify handing out public money to their favorite billionaires and corporations.

The fossil fuel industry has persuaded the EPA to stop enforcing critical environmental laws, and the Interior Department is busy handing out oil and gas leases on public lands in the midst of the crisis. Most disgracefully, even as millions nationwide are unable to pay their rents or mortgages and facing eviction or foreclosure with no governmental assistance, the industry has the nerve to ask for “royalty relief” — meaning, they want to pay even less for the privilege of extracting private wealth from public lands.

The last round of emergency relief funding passed by Congress, the CARES Act, provided some essential relief to ordinary people, such as expanded unemployment benefits. But it also included a $454 billion corporate slush fund that could be used at the discretion of the Treasury Secretary to reward politically connected corporations and billionaires, including the fossil fuel industry.

Even as fossil fuel billionaires have enriched themselves at the expense of communities, workers, and the planet, the inevitable implosion of this bubble of their own creation will leave behind unemployed workers and devastated communities facing critical losses to their tax base and unable to pay for public school teachers and other essential services. Not one cent of relief for the fossil fuel industry should go to corporations and billionaires — all of it should go directly to unemployed workers and fossil-fuel dependent communities.

That’s why the IPS Climate Policy Program has signed on to a statement along with 339 other organizations calling on Congress to address the following demands:

  • Put health care workers and all people on the frontlines of COVID-19 first in the emergency response.
    Federal assistance must support people, not the fossil fuel industry.
  • Recovery funds should provide a Just Transition for fossil fuel workers and communities dependent on fossil fuel production.
  • Congress must conduct exhaustive oversight of the Trump administration and the financial sector.
Basav Sen directs the Climate Justice Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Follow him on Twitter @BasavIPS.

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