As Texas faces the rapidly developing news around COVID-19, we at the Center for Public Policy Priorities are first and foremost focused on the health and safety of our fellow Texans. The Governor has declared a statewide disaster, and we are monitoring developments.
Our hearts are with the leaders, front-line medical personnel, first responders, and other community members working to keep us all safe and contain this pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us how each of our communities are globally-connected, and likewise, the policy decisions of Texas leaders are not isolated to this current crisis. These long-standing policy decisions related to health care coverage, paid sick policies, school funding, and access to food are coming into play right now.
COVID-19 is highlighting the importance of the work we and our fellow advocates are doing to strengthen public policy that improves equity and access to health care, food security and financial security. Our credible, dedicated experts are already hard at work evaluating the implications of this pandemic on every Texan.
Through our commitment to equity, we are especially focused on the effects of COVID-19 and its implications on Texans of color, low-income Texans, women, children and other disproportionately affected groups.
Just a few of the areas where we are hard at work studying these implications include:
- Health insurance: Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation. Research shows that uninsured Americans wait longer to seek medical attention when they are sick. The 25 percent of ALL Texas adults between the ages of 19-64 lacking health insurance are more likely to experience delays to diagnosis and medical treatment, which puts families and communities at risk. In addition, 40 percent of Texas’ working-age adults who earn less than $32,000 a year — which is two and a half times the federal poverty line — are uninsured. We applaud the Governor for asking insurance companies to waive co-pays and testing costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the long-term costs of having large portions of Texans without coverage are a much greater obstacle to treatment and reporting. Texas’ leadership can and should take immediate steps to increase health coverage. But most importantly, if we are serious about an ideal Texas public health response to contain the disease, we need to make sure people’s insurance covers both diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 and we need a solution for the uninsured.
- Paid sick leave: 4.3 million — or 40 percent of working Texans — do not have access to paid sick leave, a crucial public health safeguard at a time like this. A great majority (78 percent) of Texas’ service-sector workers do not have paid sick leave, so they may not be able to afford to take off work if they are sick, or if they need to care for a sick child. Some even risk losing their jobs if they do not report to work, even if they are sick. Encouraging people to stay home is not enough if their jobs, wages and ability to feed their families are on the line. No person should have to choose between keeping their community safe and keeping their job.
- Increased unemployment or underemployment: In addition to being unable to afford to take unpaid time away from work, low-income service-sector workers in hospitality and retail will quickly and acutely feel the ripple effects of reduced consumer spending as employers cut back their staff or reduce hours for employees.
- Food security: 3.8 million Texans rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly “food stamps”) to feed their families, but most Texans are required to work at least 30 hours a week to keep their benefits. As quarantines spread and people are unable to go to work, families are at risk of losing their SNAP benefits just when they need them the most. State officials have the authority to waive our state’s work requirements for good cause and ensure that families are able to put food on the table.
- School meals: Many kids get the majority of their meals at public schools. If those schools close for some period of time, we need to ensure Texas kids still have access to healthy meals.
- School finance: Because public schools receive funding based on attendance and not enrollment, school closures or high rates of absences cut into school budgets and could result in unforeseen cuts to important programs and teacher pay, or even permanent campus closures.
- Budgets, tax revenue and oil prices: While declining oil prices dominate the headlines, prolonged drop-offs in sales tax revenue and hotel taxes could be much more damaging and further undermine the ability of state and local leaders to provide a strong public health response.
At CPPP, we will do everything we can to support Texas leaders as they evaluate options to battle this pandemic and build policies that support everyone in our state, especially those most in need.
We are also following CDC guidelines and have instituted remote working, travel restrictions and other precautions for the health of our staff and community. Please stay tuned for updates.