Working locally, acting federally - and fighting COVID-19: These were the topics of the conversation as The Eastsider sat down - virtually - with U.S. House Rep. Adam Schiff, who represents California's 28th congressional district, including Atwater Village, East Hollywood, Echo Park, Elysian Valley, Silver Lake, and Los Feliz.
Prompted partly by readers’ questions, Rep. Schiff discussed helping businesses in the wake of the shutdown; the politics and pressures bedeviling the post office; the fight against misinformation; recognition of L.A. homelessness at the federal level; the role of COVID victims and their families in demanding an investigation; the impact that Angelenos can have on national policy; and how the entire pandemic - including the lockdown - did not have to be this way.
Recovering Economically from the Shutdown
Schiff has recently been promoting the idea of a broader paycheck guarantee program - similar to those instituted in some European countries - in which the federal government would cover, perhaps, 80% of all payroll for now.
"We place such a reliance on unemployment compensation, that just seems to me not the right choice," Schiff said. "We ought to try to keep people attached to their employment, even if they can’t go to work right now."
This idea actually has some support in the GOP, Schiff said. A proposal in the U.S. Senate by Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri would guarantee 80% payroll.
Schiff has also been working on legislation for people who work in the gig economy, or with mixed incomes.
Schiff has been in contact with social networking companies, such as Facebook, about not only taking down misinformation, but also informing people they had been exposed to falsehood. Currently, the federal government can do little more than make this sort of polite but firm request.
“We can’t tell companies what they can communicate and what they cannot communicate,” Schiff said.
But the government does hold a potential threat over these companies, he said - making them actually liable for material on their platforms.
“Right now, these companies have immunity from liability - and that was a statutory provision when they were nascent industries, and we didn’t want to stifle innovation," Schiff said. "Well, they’re not so nascent anymore. They’re behemoths now.”
So the question arises, Schiff said: "Do they still deserve have this form of immunity?"
The Threat to the Post Office
An extension of money for the post office was put into the “Heroes Act,” Schiff said. But he also detailed some political pressures on the agency that pre-date the pandemic.
First of all, many of the president’s associates have long wanted to privatize parts of the postal service - specifically, the more profitable urban and suburban routes, leaving the postal service with the unprofitable rural routes.
Second of all, the president wants to punish Jeff Bezos, who publishes the Washington Post and heads Amazon, which has a mutually beneficial arrangement with the Post Office. Schiff said the president wants to raise postal rates on Amazon as a way of indirectly punishing the Washington Post, which has often been criticized by Trump.
Finally, the president wants to discourage absentee voting by mail, Schiff said.
Homelessness, Viewed from the Federal Level
Money has been allotted for, among other things, rental assistance, in order to keep some people from joining the ranks of the homeless.
As for those who are currently on the streets, however, “It’s not a simple matter of simply finding a room,” Schiff said. “You need to make sure that people can get food in that room. You need to make sure that they can get the services that they may need.”
Since most of the work on the homeless is done on the local level, most of the federal government’s effort has to do with money and tax incentives.
Recognizing Those Touched by COVID-19
“We’re now approaching or have exceeded 90,000 Americans who’ve lost their lives,” Schiff said. “It’s hard to wrap your head around a number like that that keeps growing so constantly, and remember that these are parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters that are being lost and families that are being so traumatized.
"So I do think we need to recognize those that have been suffering through this, and those that have been lost, even while we recognize, you know, those everyday heroes who are driving the buses right now.”
A Call to Investigate How We’ve Handled the Pandemic
Schiff said he has a bill to establish a 9-11-like commission to do a whole-government analysis of why the country was so ill-prepared for this pandemic.
“It did not need to be this way,” he said, “and it doesn’t have to be this way going into the future.”
He added, “And that effort, much like the original 9-11 commission, will be driven by the victims and their families. They will be necessary to overcoming the opposition in Congress to doing this kind of accounting.”
The bill would not take effect until next year, Schiff noted, saying, “I don’t want this to be a political football in the election.”
How Angelenos Can Influence Policy Nationwide
Some local organizations have worked out strategies of creating pressure on national policy, Schiff said. He noted one example in which L.A.’s LGBT Center wanted to support the Affordable Care Act during mid-term elections. Rather than calling swing-state senators themselves, they reached out to supporters in the swing states - calling people, for example, in Alaska to have them call their senator and ask her to support affordable health care.
“Weighing in in whatever form you can,” Schiff said, “in Zoom conferences and letters to the editor. by emailing your representatives, by working through associations to move others around the country, there are just great way to get involved, and we really need people to do that.”
He also noted volunteer opportunities to help people during the pandemic right now - some of which he has been joining over the last few days, such as by delivering masks.