As the coronavirus pandemic enters its ninth month, advocates for low-income people are ramping up pressure on Congress to pass more stimulus funding.
Faye Wilson Kennedy, co-chair of the Poor Peoples’ Campaign in California, said they’re seeing an increase in the number of families using food banks and other similar programs due to a lack of financial security during the pandemic.
“People need the money to pay their bills, but most of all, people need the money to feed their hungry families,” Wilson Kennedy said. As part of a nationwide event, the group held a drive-by demonstration at the California Capitol on Monday where protesters called for more aid for low-income people hurt by the economic impacts of the virus. They also mourned the more than 250,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19.
Wilson Kennedy said it doesn’t matter who’s in charge or who won the presidential election.
“We would like a just stimulus package passed that will impact families right now,” she said about the federal government’s COVID-19 relief package known as the CARES Act.
She said a “just” relief package would include aid for struggling families as well as funding for states and local governments to provide free COVID-19 testing.
The federal stimulus package was approved in March, but some provisions have since run dry: the extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits, which was followed by a $300 weekly bump, and the Paycheck Protection Program meant to help small businesses have largely all been spent.
Other parts of the package, like the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which extends unemployment payments to contract workers and others who wouldn’t normally qualify for regular benefits, are set to expire by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, rent and other bills are still due. Though California has temporarily blocked evictions for people impacted by the pandemic, struggling renters will have to pay back rent. Evictions can resume in February for renters who don’t pay at least 25% of the rent owed between Sept. 1 and Jan. 31.
Wilson Kennedy said this solution is not going to be much help for people who were already living paycheck to paycheck before they lost work.
“How do they expect people to come up with three months or four months’ back rent,” she asked. “You’re looking at some people coming up with at least $5,000, $10,000 in back rent. People don’t have that kind of money.”
Nationwide, evictions have also been halted due to an order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
State lawmakers from California, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii sent a letter to members of Congress on Sunday warning of a looming “massive eviction crisis” and asking for $100 billion in rental assistance to prevent it.
“Rental assistance funds not only help keep vulnerable tenants housed, but they also can keep landlords from going under by providing a revenue stream to cover their costs and maintain their properties,” read the letter, which was signed by California Democrats Sen. Scott Wiener and Asm. David Chiu, both of San Francisco.
In California, nearly 1 million renters and homeowners have fallen behind on housing payments, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaking from his own home quarantine Monday, said it is “absolutely essential … that the federal government wake up and recognize this moment.”
“We can simply no longer wait for another stimulus,” he said, arguing that without additional help, the country is in peril of “putting people’s lives literally at risk, the economy in much, much more harm and families in positions of being much more vulnerable.”
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