In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the number and magnitude of challenges can be cause for despair. Yet we continue to be guided by our Christian faith, by the values and principles that have stood the tests of two millennia. Fundamental among them is our commitment to the dignity of every single human being, each one created in the image of God. We are called to live in solidarity with one another, and our preferential option ought to be for the poor and those who are most vulnerable. As Pope Francis emphasized in his recent blessing from St. Peter’s Square, “We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other.”
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Congress has already passed three relief bills which go some way toward addressing current needs. The CARES Act included numerous crucial measures, including stimulus checks and expanded unemployment assistance. But there is more to be done, in particular to ensure the protection of vulnerable communities.
Health and poverty are deeply connected — already the coronavirus’s impact on low-income workers and poor and homeless populations is cause for concern. Forty-four percent of American workers survive on hourly, minimum wage jobs that do not provide sick leave or telework policies. Many businesses are closed until further notice, and the working poor are often left more exposed to the virus, underinsured or uninsured and without stable incomes. Likewise, school closures affect thousands of children who rely on school meals for daily nutrition. The effects of COVID-19 are especially grave in communities burdened by pollution and poor underlying health conditions, including low-income and rural communities, communities of color and indigenous communities, which often lack the necessary health care infrastructure and access to resources needed for recovery.
Coronavirus poses a considerable threat to people in our criminal justice system. Those who are incarcerated are more likely to have health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and tuberculosis, than the general U.S. population. A coronavirus outbreak in prison could be disastrous, both for those incarcerated and for staff.
Language barriers, uncertain legal status, limited access to legal counsel and low wages place migrants in vulnerable positions even under normal circumstances. These vulnerabilities are only worsened under the current health crisis. Noncitizens are significantly more likely to be uninsured compared to U.S. citizens. Overcrowding and a lack of hygiene and medical supplies at detention centers, migrant shelters and makeshift refugee camps along the U.S.-Mexico border are particular cause for concern. Further, many immigrants, including the undocumented, continue to work in essential fields such as agriculture, food industry and custodial services, placing themselves and their families at risk. They deserve protection and care during these stressful and uncertain times.
Finally, let us not forget those in other countries, in particular in developing countries that do not have a sufficient health infrastructure to support their population in normal times, let alone during a pandemic. We are one human family, and as this virus has made even more clear, disasters in one part of the world can affect us all. We have the opportunity in this moment to lay the foundation for a sustainable recovery that promotes a healthy environment, invests in a future that lifts people in poverty from the economic margins and increases our resilience to future crises. Let us rise to the challenge.
Please join us in asking Congress to pass a new relief package which will protect those most in need. The bill should include measures to improve the economic security of the most vulnerable and address the unique health risks posed to people in our prisons, migrants, low-income communities and communities of color which already bear the burden of poor environmental and health conditions.