More Than Three Dozen Organizations Call on MA Legislature to Pass Urgent Safety Net Measures by April 10

Dear Members of the Legislature, 

In this time of crisis, instability, and fear we look to you for leadership—and the lives of Bay Staters will literally depend on it. We are grateful for the role the legislature has played over the past two weeks, from moving legislative offices to remote function, to encouraging Governor Baker to close schools and daycares statewide, to waiving the 1-week waiting period for unemployment assistance. However, this moment requires more from the legislative branch, and on a rapid timeline.   

Even as workplaces across the Commonwealth shutter and paychecks disappear, individuals’ expenses are increasing due to the demands of this emergency. And as we saw vividly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when disasters strike, it is people of limited means who bear the most unforgiving brunt of these crises. Low-income residents must now heat their homes during the hours when they used to be at school or work. Families must make daily pilgrimages to meal distribution sites—also often exposing themselves and their children to risk of coronavirus exposure on mass transit—to replace the two meals a day previously provided at schools. Formerly routine trips to the laundromat are now costly moral choices between leaving young children home alone longer, taking a less-frequently running bus, or paying for a TNC ride to get home to your kids faster. Residents in need are spending scarce cell phone minutes on long wait times to apply for emergency aid or to get telemedicine consults. 

Massachusetts’ assistance programs, as currently configured, are not adequate to meet this unprecedented need. Applications for SNAP benefits have increased fourfold in the last two weeks. The unemployment system has been flooded with applications, many of whom are ineligible for assistance under current parameters. And even for those who do qualify, the existing 50% wage replacement will not sustain already-low-income families. Advocates in the domestic violence space are steeling themselves for a wave of families in crisis. And these are just a few examples. The coronavirus pandemic has put immense stress on the safety net system. 

Many proposals have been floated for how to address different facets of this flood of need, and to keep circulation flowing in our local economies: a one-time supplemental payment to TAFDC and EAEDC cash assistance beneficiaries; a universal basic income intervention; closing holes in healthcare coverage for the underinsured; expansion of the UI benefit beyond 50%; supplementing the federal LifeLine program to ensure people have adequate minutes on their phone to enroll in these programs and to realistically practice social distancing; an infusion of dollars into the shelter system and RAFT program to help people be/stay safely housed. We implore you to choose some of these solutions and move on them now. 

Low-income families are in desperate, health-compromising situations and have been so for many days already. Specifically, we call on you to put a package of safety net measures on the floor of the House and Senate for a vote no later than April 10—a full month after the state of emergency was declared.

 

We recognize that funding will be necessary to back up these interventions. While federal assistance may cover some of these expenses, it likely won’t cover all of them. Thanks to your stewardship of the state budget in recent years, Massachusetts boasts the strongest “Rainy Day Fund” we have ever had, at $3.47 billion. One of the three allowed purposes for appropriations from the fund is “for any event which threatens the health, safety or welfare of the people or the fiscal stability of the commonwealth or any of its political subdivisions.” If this isn’t such an occasion, we don’t know what is. We urge you to use the Rainy Day Fund to swiftly enable some combination of the interventions above.

We recognize that the Fund, combined with federal resources, will likely be needed to support emergency response and economic recovery over several months and potentially years. But given the acute state of emergency facing our people and our economy in the immediate weeks, a modest draw of up to 6%, or about $200 million, from the $3.47 billion total in the Rainy Day Fund is entirely warranted. As many of our family members, neighbors, and fellow Bay Staters enter the third week of coronavirus impacts, we believe this $200 million is not only desperately needed, but overdue. 

In Massachusetts, we have the means to protect the health and welfare of our residents. We beg you to act with the urgency this crisis requires. 

 

Sincerely,

 

Progressive Massachusetts

Act on Mass

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts

American Federation of Teachers (AFT) MA

American Friends Service Committee MA

Brazilian Worker Center

Children's HealthWatch

Chinese Progressive Association

Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries

Council on American-Islamic Relations-MA

Dismas House

Episcopal City Mission

Indivisible Mass Coalition

Lynn United for Change

Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants (MAHT)

Massachusetts AFL-CIO

Massachusetts Communities Action Network (MCAN)

Massachusetts Jobs with Justice

Massachusetts NOW (National Organization for Women)

Massachusetts Peace Action

Massachusetts Physicians for Equity

Massachusetts Public Health Association

Massachusetts Voter Table

Mijente Boston Asamblea

NAACP, New England Area Conference

National Association of Social Workers (NASW), MA Chapter

Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts

New England Jewish Labor Committee

One Fair Wage

Our Revolution Massachusetts

Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts

Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM)

Rosie's Place

Somerville Community Corporation

UAW MA State CAP Council

Union of Minority Neighborhoods

Unitarian Universalist Mass Action

United for a Fair Economy

Worcester Interfaith

 

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