On September 10, the U.S. Senate took up and failed to pass a $650 billion package of relief for our nation of 331 million people, rocked to the core by the coronavirus pandemic and related economic downturn. This is a sliver of the $3.4 trillion in aid approved by the U.S. House in May and shows a profound disregard for current realities by Majority Leader McConnell and many of his colleagues.
There are a number of familiar images from world history that signal the callous insensitivity of the wealthy and powerful to masses of starving and hurting people. When I was a child, Eurocentric images prevailed (whether historically accurate or not) like Nero fiddling while Rome burned or Marie Antoinette intoning “Let them eat cake” when told that the poor have no bread. A more expansive list would surely include Dr. Martin Luther King’s comment in the Letter from the Birmingham Jail: “I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”
What part of the word crisis does Sen. McConnell fail to understand? Surely the path of the COVID-19 disease itself ought to be setting off warning bells. Since the beginning of the pandemic, COVID-19 cases have continued to increase across the nation. Diagnoses in Missouri are up nine percent while nationally there has been an average decline of 17 percent, and we recently ranked in the top five in the nation.
It’s not just our large urban centers either. A current map by the New York Times shows the southeastern part of Missouri remains a hotspot for new cases. Over the past week, Missouri has seen an average of 1,449 cases per day, an increase of 12 percent from the average just two weeks ago.
On September 15, Empower Missouri and the Coalition on Human Needs co-released an updated report on the impact that COVID-19 has had on Missouri households, making use of the newest data from the U. S. Census Bureau, especially the Household Pulse Survey. Our report documents that forty percent of Missouri households have lost income since March, and 22 percent of those families and individuals report that they did not have enough to eat sometime during the previous week. Thirteen percent of Missouri households could not pay rent last month, but racial disparities were glaring in the housing statistics. The rate for inability to pay rent was more than three times higher in the Latinx community and twenty percent in Black households compared to ten percent for those identifying as white.
Without additional federal aid, Missouri will not be able to provide the services needed to help its people recover and move forward. Lay-offs of local and state government workers have occurred, with 3,700 fewer government jobs in Missouri in July than in July 2019. The expiration of Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which provided $600 per week, has cost jobless workers and Missouri’s economy hundreds of millions of dollars. Missouri started to pay $300 per week to some of the unemployed through the Trump Administration’s Lost Wages Assistance program, and that provided $282.6 million through September 10. Because it is half the $600 previously in place, Missouri’s economy has lost $282.6 million, affecting more than 200,000 workers. And now the Department of Labor says the funds for $300 program have run out too.
If U.S. Senators continue to refuse to negotiate an adequate COVID relief package, potentially leaving until after the election, they are abandoning huge numbers of constituents in vulnerable communities. Failure to act will deepen and lengthen the recession for Missouri’s families and threaten a flood of evictions when the CDC-ordered moratorium expires at the end of December.
It is absolutely essential that we create a sense of urgency with Senators Blunt and Hawley. Empower Missouri has prepared a set of resources for you on our COVID-19 Call to Action page. Whether you have already taken action or not, please read our latest report and then take action. Then please do two more things: 1) Invite five friends to also take action; and 2) Donate to Empower Missouri to strengthen us at this crucial time when advocacy for families in poverty is so essential.
Thank you in standing for and with those whose access to food and shelter is so tenuous at this time. Food and housing are building blocks for a strong Missouri, and we are in peril if we fail to respond when our neighbors are hurting.
Jeanette Mott Oxford
Director of Policy and Organizing