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OPINION

Federal assistance needed as COVID-19 continues to devastate low-income households

ABCD calls on Congress and the White House to set aside their differences and get the next coronavirus relief bill passed.

A Quincy resident receives food from the South Shore YMCA Germantown Neighborhood Center Food Pantry in Quincy in May.
A Quincy resident receives food from the South Shore YMCA Germantown Neighborhood Center Food Pantry in Quincy in May.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Since COVID-19 struck, Jamie, a 57-year-old mother from Everett, has worried constantly about keeping her family fed. Then the refrigerator died, and all their food was lost. “You don’t want to tell your child there is no food," she said.

A retired retail worker from Dorchester, Paulette, 69, juggles paying for rent, food, and other needs. She raised her granddaughter, who lives with her. "My granddaughter lost her job due to the pandemic. Now she can’t make her car payments and we are afraid it will be repossessed when it’s almost paid for,” said Paulette.

A single mother of three, Danielle had to leave her receptionist position to care for her children during the pandemic. Now back to work, with her children attending YMCA camp, she is far behind on her bills and wondering how she can continue working if their school opens remotely. “I’m back at work, but there is no money for food. And because of my job, I can’t get to food pantries when they are open," she said.

These are three families who have turned to Action for Boston Community Development for help — three out of the more than 100,000 low-income individuals we serve by providing assistance with Head Start, fuel assistance, housing services, homelessness prevention, youth programs, workforce development, nutrition and food programs, health services, and more each year. With the unyielding pandemic continuing, that number is growing rapidly.

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And they are only a few of the millions battered by the pandemic, with nearly 29 million Americans now receiving unemployment benefits. When the CARES Act, with its $600 weekly federal unemployment insurance, expired on July 31, millions were left with nowhere to turn.

On behalf of those millions of Americans — the tired, the hungry, the homeless and near-homeless, the jobless and the despairing — ABCD calls on Congress and the White House to set aside their differences and get the next coronavirus relief bill passed. We plead for our national government to act now — as the worst public health crisis in a century continues to wreak havoc on innocent people’s lives. Act now to keep children from going hungry, to keep people in their homes, to shore up the business community and the economy, and to keep hope for the future alive.

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As the Boston-area antipoverty and community action organization, ABCD has a birds-eye view of the pain of poverty sweeping the Boston neighborhoods and nearby cities and towns we serve — pain that mirrors the anguish felt throughout the state and nation.

In a recent survey by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, millions reported that their households did not have enough to eat or that they were behind in paying the rent. The negative impact of the pandemic is particularly prevalent among Black, Latino, Native American, and immigrant households. These impacts reflect harsh, longstanding inequities — often stemming from systemic racism — in education, employment, housing, and health care that the coronavirus pandemic is intensifying.

Former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen recently stated that the loss of government fiscal support — the $600 per week and other measures — may lead to a “complete petering out” of economic growth.

In the Boston area, thanks to recent CARES Act funding earmarked for those most in need, ABCD and several committed partners are providing crisis intervention and direct relief for children, families, the elderly, those with disabilities, and others via emergency food programs, rental and mortgage assistance, eviction protection, technology assistance, and expansion of our current programs.

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Other nonprofit organizations and state and local agencies are also doing all that they can.

But national leadership and immediate action is desperately needed to provide direct economic aid for millions who are sinking fast in an economy where the bottom has fallen out as it registers the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression.

ABCD echoes the cries of people in need across the nation, calling for sweeping federal action to reinstate the $600-a-week federal unemployment lifeline; provide eviction protection and funding for health care, housing, education, and all the services that keep people safe at work, school, and home; and deliver an infusion of federal support for cities and states whose budgets have been ravaged by the coronavirus.

John J. Drew is president and CEO of Action for Boston Community Development.