We can’t weather the COVID-19 crisis without legislative leadership

April 7, 2020 12:23 pm

Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

COVID-19 is continuing to tear through Arizona, and it’s clear that it will be many months before anything approaching normalcy returns. 

Nearly 2,600 people are sick, and 73 have died. More are being diagnosed and dying each day. Businesses across the state are shuttered. Nearly 100,000 people applied for unemployment last week, a number that is only expected to grow. And Arizona families are not getting the support they need and deserve from our legislature. 

Two weeks ago, the Arizona Legislature passed a “skinny budget” and temporarily adjourned. The budget included $55 million in much-needed emergency spending, but not much else. 

Republicans in the Arizona House of Representatives purposefully decided not to hear, and therefore not publicly vote on, amendments introduced by Democratic Reps. Raquel Terán, Kirsten Engel, Mitzi Epstein and many others. These amendments would have banned price gouging, expanded unemployment benefits and established a fund for small business owners to protect them against the economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis in Arizona. 

Just a few days after those Republicans refused to even hear these amendments, their counterparts in the U.S. Congress passed a sweeping relief bill that, among other things, expanded unemployment benefits and provided support to small businesses. The federal bill, called the CARES Act, passed on a bipartisan basis and was signed by President Donald Trump. 

Essentially, Republican leadership in our state legislature is so extreme that they refused to even consider desperately needed measures to help Arizonans through a historic crisis, measures that even Republicans on the federal level supported. They refused to consider these steps simply because the ideas came from Democrats. 

By refusing to hear these amendments or even give them a proper debate, Republicans in the Arizona Legislature have once again prioritized partisan politics over just doing the right thing for the majority of Arizonans. 

The legislature is set to reconvene on April 13, although that date is looking increasingly uncertain. When they do reconvene, Republicans in both chambers of the Arizona Legislature need to address the rapidly escalating crisis and take bolder and stronger steps to ensure that Arizonans across the entire state are able to protect themselves and their family both physically and financially.

These are not normal times, and minimal approaches are not going to be enough. 

Many Arizonans lived paycheck to paycheck before the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the economy essentially shut down, families are struggling to pay their bills. Most are rightfully depending on unemployment to feed their families and themselves during these difficult times. The federal relief bill increased unemployment payments by $600 a week. 

But Arizona’s benefits remain the second-lowest in the nation – only Mississippi’s are lower. The Arizona Legislature is letting down their constituents by refusing to even have a debate on the Democratic amendments addressing unemployment benefit expansions.

Arizona’s small businesses are also in trouble. Although some small business relief spending was part of the federal package, the funding is first come, first served, and many small businesses are struggling to access it. The small business eviction moratorium just put in place by Gov. Doug Ducey will also help, but only so much: even if evictions are temporarily halted, rent and other bills will continue to mount over time, and it will be impossible for many small business owners to catch up once the crisis passes. 

They deserve to have possible solutions at the very least discussed by Arizona lawmakers. 

There is no way for our state to survive this pandemic without the Arizona Legislature stepping up and doing its part. By the time the legislature reconvenes, Republicans need to be ready to consider bills that will actually bring relief to the communities that need it the most – regardless of who introduces them.

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Jenny Guzman

Jenny Guzman is the Legislative Communications Coordinator for Progress Now Arizona. Originally from Yuma, AZ she is committed to advancing equity and justice for marginalized communities across the state.