As Congress swings back into session this week, the need is clear for another robust COVID-19 relief package that includes flexible emergency assistance to help families cover groceries, the rent, and housing. We’ve heard stories all over the country of families having to choose between keeping the lights on and putting food on the table. Stories like that of Glenda Miggins of Detroit, Michigan, who has a son in fourth grade, and since the beginning of the pandemic, has to choose between paying her full rent or feeding her son while he is home from school. Glenda receives payments from disability checks and child support from her son’s father, but that’s not enough. She can no longer travel safely since her usual driving friend was diagnosed with COVID-19, making it difficult for her to get to the nearest food distribution site. “It’s overwhelming every day,” said Glenda “People don’t know what you have to sacrifice, or who you may have to call or beg,” she said.
Like Glenda, too many families, especially families of color, live the reality of poverty, gender disparities, and systemic racism daily. In 2018, 38 million people – including nearly 12 million children – were living in poverty, with 7.5 million Black and Latino children bearing the brunt of those numbers. While the pandemic is exacerbating child poverty and racial inequities, children are disproportionately impacted with higher rates of food and housing insecurity than non-child households. For example, nearly four in 10 Black and Latinx households with children reported not having enough food to eat, experiencing food insecurity at twice the rate of white households with children. Women have also borne the majority of job losses since February, further widening economic gaps; even with modest gains in June 2020, roughly 1 in 7 Black and Latina women remain unemployed. With the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic and without imminent support from Congress, millions of children and families could be pushed into poverty. Congress needs to act quickly.
That is why the Children’s Defense Fund, along with First Focus Campaign for Children and Coalition on Human Needs, led a letter with close to 170 national, state, and local organizations calling for Senator Wyden’s Pandemic TANF Assistance Act (S. 3672) to be included in the next COVID-19 relief package. This critical bill would create a $10 billion Coronavirus Emergency Assistance Grant Program that would provide essential funding for states, territories, and tribes to address the unmet needs of families and individuals living at 200 percent or below the federal poverty line (FPL). Importantly, this fund would allow states to provide emergency cash assistance to families and individuals that have been left out of other relief measures like unemployment insurance (UI), including individuals returning from jail or prison and survivors of domestic violence, immigrants, and young people from low-income neighborhoods just entering the labor market, among others.
What’s more, because the fund isn’t tied to TANF, there are no burdensome and counterproductive work requirements or time limits on assistance that hurt many of our families of color from receiving assistance. As we have long said, emergency cash and in-kind support are critical to support families and reduce racial disparities. This is especially true for Black families who are more likely to live in states with extremely low benefits and inability to access them.
Our society’s moral compass must be measured by how we help our children and families living in poverty and reduce systemic racial injustice during the pandemic and beyond. Our children expect no less.
Find the full letter to Congressional leadership here.