OPINION: Fed dollars are needed right now to blunt pandemic crisis fallout

John J. Drew

This holiday season is punctuated by unrelenting need – a need sparked by pandemic-induced job loss in neighborhoods already afflicted by poverty, health and economic disparities, and racial inequity. Children, families and seniors in Dorchester and other city neighborhoods can’t wait any longer for the federal government to pass virus relief funding that will keep food on their tables and a roofs over their heads. Without immediate action, the suffering will be unbearable. Small businesses that are struggling to survive will also shut their doors, putting more people out of work and adding to the blight of our communities.

ABCD is seeing long lines at its food pantries, non-stop calls for heating assistance, and desperate requests for help with rent and mortgage payments. Many of those seeking help never expected to need public assistance. They are grateful for the food, for the fuel, for the rent payment, and for the holiday gifts for their children. But community organizations can’t meet the overwhelming needs out there. The federal government has to step up — now.

One single mother of three young children spoke to a reporter about her fear of eviction, noting that she was six months behind on her rent and had $36 in her bank account. Her hours working at a community agency were cut from 35 to 5 hours a week when the state implemented the emergency shutdown in March. They have not been restored. With her children needing supervision and assistance with remote learning, it is hard for her to find another job.

Her story is just the tip of the iceberg. In November, the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose in one week from 748,000 to 778,000, evidence that the economy and job market are experiencing increasing difficulty as Covid-19 surges again. Nationally, 11.1 million people were unemployed in October, and the unemployment rate was at 6.9 percent, nearly double the 3.4 percent in February before the pandemic.

An added threat is the expiration of two supplemental federal unemployment programs on the day after Christmas – ending benefits for 9.1 million jobless people.

ABCD is calling for the immediate passage of stimulus legislation that reinstates the $600-a-week federal unemployment lifeline; that provides eviction protection and funding for health care, housing, education and all the services that keep people safe at work, school, and home; and that delivers an infusion of federal support for cities and states whose budgets have been ravaged by the virus.

Vaccines and better days are on the horizon, but a treacherous winter has to be navigated first. A Biden administration relief bill is still two to three months away. We ask our representatives in Congress to not consider going home for Christmas without a Covid deal. Please.

John J. Drew is President/CEO of Action for Boston Community Development, Inc., the antipoverty and community action organization serving low-income residents of Boston, Cambridge, and the Mystic Valley area.