Released jointly with Public Accountability Initiative, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Communications Workers of America (CWA), Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE), Bargaining for the Common Good, and Care Test Protect Campaign
On April 4, 2020, President Trump stated during an address to the nation, “there will be a lot of death” from coronavirus, as the number of known cases in the U.S. surpassed 300,0001 and experts predicted that the country was still weeks away from seeing its COVID-19 death rate peak. With the U.S. facing a surge of critical patients, mayors and governors have been warning that lifesaving medical supplies will run out in a matter of days, and frontline workers have been pleading for the personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, and testing supplies needed to do their jobs safely.
Trump has repeatedly refused to take action to ensure that hospitals and frontline workers have these critical supplies. On March 18th, amid calls from doctors,2 nurses, hospitals,3 and elected officials,4 Trump signed an executive order activating the Defense Production Act (DPA), which would allow the federal government to centralize and oversee the production and distribution of critically-needed supplies to combat the coronavirus pandemic.5 Yet three weeks later, with hundreds of thousands of cases of COVID-19 around the country,6 Trump has thus far refused to use the full power of the DPA to coordinate an industry-wide response, opting instead to target specific companies with demands for increased production but without any apparent oversight or desperately needed federal coordination.7 A Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General report released in early April found that “hospitals reported that their most significant challenges centered on testing and caring for patients with known or suspected COVID-19 and keeping staff safe,” citing a lack of access to PPE, other equipment, and testing supplies among their concerns.
Trump’s erratic approach to the use of the DPA avoids addressing fundamental underlying problems – unregulated distributors, limited supplies, and profit-driven markets – and leaves the door wide open for continued price gouging, profiteering, and competition between states.
The Trump Administration has refused to make systematic use of the Defense Production Action to accelerate the delivery of needed medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) despite urgent calls from hospitals, healthcare workers, and workers in “essential jobs” to do so.
This policy decision has had a devastating impact on the health of low-wage Black and Latinx workers in particular, who are overrepresented in essential public, service, and agricultural sector jobs that put them at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19, and account for a significantly higher portion of fatalities from the disease.
While headlines have focused on sporadic jousting between the White House and some companies, the US Chamber of Commerce has played a powerful role in lobbying against deployment of this crucial policy tool. Many of the most powerful corporations that lead the Chamber have direct financial interests in how the COVID-19 response plays out. The companies – including medical manufacturers like 3M and Honeywell, major employers of frontline workers, and big banks – have the power and responsibility to reverse the Chamber’s lobbying agenda that prioritizes corporate control and profit over public health and well-being.
Summary of recommendations:
Corporations affiliated with the US Chamber of Commerce should swiftly and publicly support full and equitable invocation of the Defense Production Act to speed and coordinate the production of urgently needed PPE, tests, ventilators and other medical equipment, and pressure the Chamber to do the same.