Responding to the Need Laid Bare

Working to Mend the Gaps in a Time of Crisis

When I testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform at the beginning of February, our world was a very different place than it is today. However, the issues that I spoke of at that time are more urgent than ever. While you can read the details of the testimony in this issue of Connection, the substance boils down to a simple fact: the Trump administration’s attempt to define people out of poverty is a cruel hoax to prop up conservative economic talking points.

In the COVID-19 crisis, we have quickly learned how tattered our safety net is. Now, even Republicans, are beginning to see that we need to care for all of our people in order to protect the common good. COVID-19 is demonstrating that we are all vulnerable. The virus respects neither economic privilege nor zip codes. Some who were previously hostile to the idea of a safety net now see that we are connected and my concern for another is a concern for my family and friends also.

One example of this is the Community Health Centers whose long term funding has been held up in Congress as a “bargaining chip” in the effort to reduce drug costs. Some of these centers, which serve the most vulnerable uninsured people in our country, have had to close their doors because of a lack of funding. Now, they received emergency funding.

We have heard of people who have lost their jobs and have no income and a rent payment due. They are receiving increased unemployment benefits as quickly as states can do it.

We have heard of a farmer who was going to sell some machinery to pay the loan that they took out last year to get through a “hard patch.” Now the loan is due, but there is no market to sell the machinery. There are provisions for cash-strapped farmers as they begin planting season.

The stories go on and on. I find myself often on the point of tears. These tears led me to realize that the response to this crisis in many ways is up to us. Will we continue to use this moment to reclaim the fact that we are based in community and end the unpatriotic lie of individualism? This is our moment. This is our chance. We have Members of Congress listening who never listened before.

We must minister to our people. We need to lift up the stories of solidarity (even though we are socially distancing). The truth is that we are interconnected, as this invisible virus has demonstrated. There are no national boundaries when it comes to our care. There is no Republican virus or Democratic virus. Our legislation needs to reflect this deep truth: We are one body.