Since Empower Missouri’s focus is on securing basic human needs and equal justice for every person in our state, we receive quite a few calls from people whose food and housing security are in danger. This week I had a call from a tenant with low-income who is aware that the federal eviction moratorium has ended and that the local reprieve where he lives is set to end soon. Understandably, he was quite worried. I also had a call from a woman with a disability who depends on a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) check from Social Security for her daily needs. She had heard on television that the president was going to end Social Security (or that’s how it sounded to her anyway), and she was panicking.
Many people live with enough privilege and economic security that they do not have to worry about such matters. That is not reality for millions of our Missouri neighbors, however. The economic downturn is making it difficult for them to afford enough food and to keep a roof over their heads, and the failure of Congress to pass a new and robust package of coronavirus relief is producing both suffering and anxiety.
I hasten to tell frightened callers that the U.S. has a system of checks and balances, that presidents can’t simply end Social Security without the cooperation of many other people. The legislative process takes enough time generally that we can organize and respond as justice advocates, often saving essential safety net programs. I remind them of the importance of being connected to advocacy organizations such as ours so that they will have reliable information about what Congress and the Missouri General Assembly are doing and receive timely calls to action.
Still, I can see why callers are especially worried right now. The U.S. Senate has taken an August recess since 1970 and are on that break now. The U.S. House has recognized that this is not the time to take a break and cancelled their August recess, which is laudable. But it’s also obvious that people in both chambers are somewhat distracted by political conventions this month. At a time when their constituents need elected officials to keep the public health emergency and deep recession foremost in their minds, messaging designed to win electoral votes on November 3 is front and center for far too many office holders.
Perhaps you have already accepted our call to action and contacted Sen. Blunt and Sen. Hawley about the importance of convincing Majority Leader McConnell to take up and pass a package of aid that looks more like the House version. Even though the lack of success so far may be very discouraging, we need you to reach out again by taking action here.
It is absolutely essential that our senators hear loudly and clearly that their constituents are counting on them to pass a robust relief package. That legislation must increase SNAP food assistance benefits by fifteen percent, offer $100 billion in housing assistance, provide more aid to state and local governments, and be large enough to match the size of the crisis that we are in. We may not be able to convince both chambers to get back to DC and do what needs to be done during August, but if we generate thousands of contacts from our state – and advocates in other states do the same – Congress will have clear marching orders for September 8-11, their first week back from their scheduled break.
In “normal years,” Empower Missouri has joined our national partner, the Food Research and Action Center, in advocating for summer feeding programs to make up for food that children miss when there are no school meals available, since “Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation.” This is not a normal year; our advocacy is needed now more than ever. Food and housing insecurity are not on break; our lawmakers should not be either. Take action today.
Please invite your friends to take action with us, and as you post the COVID-19 call to action page from our website in your social media, please use these hashtags – #DoYourJob and #backtowork.
Jeanette Mott Oxford
Director of Policy and Organizing