WASHINGTON – This month marks the one-year anniversary of the pandemic stay-at-home orders from 2020. Throughout this crisis, the Poor People’s Campaign has continued to show how fundamental inequalities along lines of race, income, and access to basic needs created the fissures within which this pandemic has wrought such pain. Before the pandemic, there were 140 million people who were poor or low-income and 40% of the population could not afford a $400 emergency. One year later, more than 500,000 lives have been lost, millions of people have lost their jobs and are on unemployment, and millions more are at risk of homelessness and hunger. Even as the vaccine is being distributed across the nation, people are dying at record numbers and inequities exist in access to the vaccine and health care.
We know that the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) passed last week will bring much needed relief to the nation, and for the first time in a generation, poverty is on the national agenda. Due to the tireless work of this Campaign and so many others, the political and economic narrative is shifting. ARPA clearly shows that pandemic relief requires relieving also the injustices of poverty and systemic racism that brought us to this point.
Importantly, ARPA shows that poverty and systemic racism can be addressed through policy. After decades of blaming the poor for their poverty, we are seeing policies that begin to lift from the bottom without work requirements or shaming the poor. Policies that prioritize the poor are front and center, including policies that give money directly to the poor, and we are spending these resources without hand-wringing over the budget. Many of ARPA’s provisions embrace our Campaign’s 14 Policy Priorities to Heal the Nation, including additional stimulus payments ($400 billion), unemployment insurance ($300/week), food security ($12 billion), housing assistance ($35 billion), utilities assistance ($5 billion), the expanded Child Tax Credit, resources for public schools ($130 billion), childcare ($39 billion), Head Start ($1 billion), and aid to state, local and tribal governments ($350 billion). There is also funding for students with disabilities ($3 billion) and indigenous people, including for Indian Health Services and education (+$9 billion). In fact, early estimates suggest that ARPA will reduce child poverty and economic insecurity by 10-45%.
While the passage of ARPA is a necessary step in the right direction, it is only the first of many to follow. We recognize that these gains are only temporary, including that many of the poverty-reducing extensions expire in less than one year. Indeed, we must measure the $1.9 trillion in light of the need at hand. Provisions that improve the conditions of poor and low-income people must be made permanent and expanded into public investments to realize our full potential as a nation. We must not only reduce child poverty, but end it, and end the poverty of their parents. We must extend eligibility to all immigrants and pass laws that guarantee health care, housing, water, welfare, jobs and incomes for everyone. We must have and demand a $15 minimum wage that progresses to a living wage. We need to collect and monitor the impact of COVID-19 by race, income, occupation, and geography. We need a new poverty measure so we can see the true extent of want and address it adequately and to the fullest extent of our national resources. We need to be relieved of housing debt, medical debt, student debt, and other debts that cannot be paid. We must save Oak Flat and protect our sacred rights to religion and democracy.
We’ve known what is necessary and now we can see it is possible. Forward together, not one step back!