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.”
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.
- Underlying Health Disparities Could Mean Coronavirus Hits Some Communities Harder
- Responding to Coronavirus: Low-carbon Investments Can Help Economies Recover, from World Resource Institute
- House Natural Resource Committee Environmental Justice Priorities
- Put clean energy at the heart of stimulus plans to counter the coronavirus crisis, from International Energy Agency
Dear [REPRESENATATIVE / SENATOR],
I am writing to thank you for your continued efforts to address the current COVID-19 crisis, and for the rapid passing of the CARES Act. This bill included numerous crucial measures, including stimulus checks and expanded unemployment assistance, but much was left out as well. In the midst of this crisis, we continue to be guided by our faith, by which we recognize the dignity of every single human being, each one created in the image of God. As you consider another relief package, I ask you to include measures to protect out most vulnerable communities.
In particular, I ask that you take the following actions:
- Increase SNAP benefits to limit hunger during the ongoing crisis;
- Allocate additional support for homelessness assistance programs, rural low-income housing development programs, and emergency rental assistance for those in greatest need;
- Allocate infrastructure investment to sustainable development which will both diminish our reliance on fossil fuels and decrease the pollution which leads to chronic health conditions such as asthma that are making so many vulnerable at this time;
- Allocate a substantial portion of infrastructure investment to vulnerable communities which already bear a higher burden of pollution and adverse health conditions, especially low-income, rural communities, communities of color and indigenous communities;
- In particular provide funds to ensure that clean, safe and affordable drinking water is available to all communities;
- Authorize early release of elderly and medically vulnerable people;
- Provide funding for additional protective equipment for correctional staff and inmates, medical testing and care, and home-confinement for appropriate inmates;
- Lift bans on access to social services and housing for people who will be, and who have already been, released from prison;
- Provide funding to ensure that testing and treatment for COVID-19 is made available to all people in the country, including those without health insurance, regardless of immigration status;
- Remove the Social Security Number requirement for cash assistance, so that it is available to all those with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number;
- Ensure that spaces critical to community well-being and public health and safety remain off-limits to immigration enforcement activity;
- Require ICE and CBP to use available discretionary powers to release all immigrants possible from detention;
- Oppose the Administration’s decision to suspend all access to asylum, as fleeing from persecution is essential travel;
- Fund foreign assistance to support public health and disaster preparedness projects in developing countries.
I ask you to take these measures to ensure that the most vulnerable communities are not left behind in our relief and recovery efforts. Please be assured of my continued prayers for you and all those entrusted with the governance of our country in this extremely challenging time.