We are approaching the holiday season, a time usually spent with loved ones and filled with laughter, shared stories, and the joy of companionship.
However, with COVID-19 cases rising and over 305,000 Americans lost to the virus, this holiday season is difficult for many of us; at best it will be broached with great caution.
Too many people have lost mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, colleagues and friends.
Many of our neighbors are struggling to put food on the table, pay their rent and afford other basic needs.
Covenant House advocates are fielding over 100 calls each day. Every day as many as 45 people will sit down to enjoy a meal supplied from our food pantry. Another 10-20 of our local neighbors will find housing or receive rental or utility assistance to help then remain in their home.
Perhaps what is most nuanced in our work this year is that we are seeing people who have never before shopped at a food pantry or needed help paying their rent or water bill. Think about that. Have you ever selected your groceries from a local pantry instead of Kroger?
As of this writing, our own Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is leading a bi-partisan effort to fund emergency assistance to keep food on the table and extend rental assistance, among other critical areas important to every American. Lawmakers stepped up earlier this year to help millions of families affected by this crisis, but that help expires in days. We applaud Sen. Manchin’s leadership.
If this aid is not extended, it means more West Virginians will go hungry and be at risk of losing their homes as we enter the cold winter months.
In West Virginia, hunger has skyrocketed with families waiting in line for hours to get food from local charities and pantries who are also struggling to meet the significant increase in demand. Reports from Feeding America reveal that out of 250,600 West Virginians struggling with hunger, an astonishing 73,700 are children. From Nov. 25 through Dec. 7, 15% of West Virginia households with children (roughly one in six) reported they sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Census Pulse Survey.
That is why our federal policymakers must boost the best anti-hunger tool at their disposal: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP helps make sure families with children, the elderly, people with disabilities, and so many across our state have enough to eat. According to Feeding America, SNAP provides nine meals for every meal that Feeding America’s network of food bank provides.
A temporary 15% increase in SNAP benefits is a proven, effective way to address food insecurity and bolster the economy since people spend their SNAP benefits at local grocery stores and retailers. It will also relieve some of the stress on local pantries.
In addition to facing hunger, many West Virginians are at risk of losing their homes. The national eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control expires on Dec. 31. And while some local eviction bans may temporarily help renters, without federal emergency rental assistance, thousands of our neighbors will continue to fall behind on rent, putting them at risk of eviction or homelessness.
Our systems of support are already stretched thin. We have been responding to increased requests for food and housing assistance since April. Moreover, an unfunded eviction moratorium is not very helpful. Many West Virginians pay rent to small property owners who are also struggling.
West Virginians who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic also need adequate unemployment benefits to help get them through this crisis. The $600 federal supplement to unemployment insurance benefits that proved to be critical for many expired at the end of July. Other unemployment measures are set to expire at the end of December, even though the economy still has 10 million fewer jobs than prior to the pandemic; the deepening spread of the virus is preventing states from reopening their economies more fully.
If Congress lets these unemployment measures expire, they will put even more families, particularly communities of color and low-income households, at risk of greater hardship.
The need for congressional action has never been more critical— every aspect of our lives will be touched by congressional action, or inaction.
This year more than ever, the holidays are a time to remember those in need in our communities. Senator Manchin and others must continue to fight for a strong COVID relief package before the end of the year and do everything in their power to ensure West Virginians get the help they need.