#AZLeg Should Add Coronavirus Prevention & Control to Budget (video)


The Coronavirus is spreading rapidly in some US states, including Arizona.

Let’s put this contagion into perspective. One man in New York has been linked to 28 cases of Coronavirus. Last week, we heard about Coronavirus in one senior living facility in the Seattle area; one week later, there are Coronavirus cases in nine senior living facilities in that area. When I recorded my video (below), there were three cases in Maricopa County. By the end of the day, there are six confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Arizona, including one in Pima County, and at least one Arizona Congressman has been exposed. Everything is moving fast.

Can the state of Arizona do more to protect the public? I think so. For the second year in a row, the state has extra funds to invest– $635 million in one-time funds and $300 million in ongoing funds. If you follow my video updates, you know that House Republicans have proposed 18 tax giveaway bills, which, if they all passed and were signed into law, could total more than $1 billion. [For the record, I am not criticizing the state’s response to the Coronavirus. I am suggesting that the state take a more active role in preventing the spread by investing in tactics to keep people healthy.]

For months, I have been saying instead of giving away taxes to big corporations, utility companies, and selected special interest groups, we should be investing it in programs to help the people of Arizona, like reducing Adverse Childhood Experiences, fully funding public education, and fixing our roads.

Enter the Coronavirus… here is something we should be budgeting for… now.

I think we should take a significant portion of those $635 million in one-time funds ($100-200 million?) and invest it in prevention and control of the Coronavirus. For example, people should stay home if they are sick. Far too many Arizonans work in the gig economy or have low-wage part-time jobs. Some middle class workers (like teachers) drive for ride-sharing services to make ends meet. Also, let’s not forget the vast majority of fast food workers, daycare workers, caregivers and restaurant workers who don’t have health insurance or paid sick time. All of these gig economy workers come in contact with dozens of other people each day and most likely don’t have health insurance or paid sick leave. Several news sources are reporting that nursing homes are the epicenter of the Coronavirus because residents have chronic health problems, and the workers can’t afford to stay home with they are sick.

Without paid sick leave, gig economy workers can’t afford to stay home because they don’t want to lose their jobs or their housing. For the good of our communities, everyone who is sick should stay home. The Legislature could temporarily expand TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), increase the amount paid (since it is set at 36% of the 1992 poverty rate now), and offer it to workers so they can stay home while they or their children are sick. Alternatively, we could put money into the Housing Trust Fund to cover one month of rent or a mortgage payment while workers stay home to recuperate or care for family members who have Coronavirus. This type of fund — whether it is expanded TANF or something separate– would dramatically improve contagion control and prevention efforts.

We should also make an effort to get health insurance for the uncovered. Through my investigation of maternal and child health, I have found that many people who are eligible for AHCCCS (Arizona’s Medicaid system) don’t get it. There are also people who make just a little bit too much to get AHCCCS but can’t afford insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges. Why aren’t eligible Arizonans signed up for AHCCCS? I have asked that question many times The answers that pop up repeatedly are: 1) the application is difficult and lengthy, the process is long, and people are often denied the first time they apply; 2) people don’t know what their benefits are; and 3) poor contract management. Everyone who is eligible for AHCCCS should be signed up now.

We should also look at hospital preparedness, availability of test kits, outreach to the populace, and other areas of outbreak control to identify tactics that could benefit from funding– like we did with the opioid epidemic. The Legislature is in the appropriations process right now. Now is the time to ask for any Coronavirus prevention, treatment or control monies.

Regarding Congressional spread: Arizona Congressional Rep. Paul Gosar announced on Monday, March 9, that he came into contact with someone who has Coronavirus, and he will begin a self-quarantine. Texas Senator Ted Cruz made a similar announcement.

Two days *before* he decided to self-quarantine, Gosar attended at least one Pro Trump Republican meeting in Fountain Hills, along with State Reps. Jay Lawrence, Walt Blackman and John Kavanagh and Congressmen Andy Biggs and David Schweikert. At least three Democratic Legislators Reps. Alma Hernandez, Daniel Hernandez and Cesar Chavez attended the recent AIPEC meeting, along with at least one other attendee who tested positive for Coronavirus. Yikes.

Reality check for Arizona: The Coronavirus outbreak in the senior living center in Seattle spread to nine such centers in a week. For seniors to be safe, caregivers and direct care workers must be financially able to stay home if they or a family member is sick. How safe are Arizona seniors?

Let’s learn from others’ mistakes: Countries that have ignored the outbreak or were slow to respond are in much worse shape than those who acted boldly at the beginning. Italy is on total lockdown. Iran has the highest death toll. OK, Arizona, let’s not go there. The Legislature should throw all of those tax giveaway bills in the dust bin, stop debating sweetheart deals and other nonsense bills, and focus on public health for a change.