What’s needed in response to COVID-19 crisis

Housing, child care, and schools key to recovery

THE FEDERAL AND STATE response to the COVID-19 crisis has been a failure. As we approach a full year of grappling with this historic crisis, and as we mourn the loss of more than 400,000 Americans, it is time to recognize that our policymakers have failed because they have not listened to the people who have suffered the most. The time to change that is now.

The Massachusetts COVID-19 Response Alliance (MCRA) was formed early in the wake of the crisis. We are a coalition of labor, community, and faith organizations that have consistently called for a better response to this crisis. We have advocated for a comprehensive response – from ensuring housing stability to providing emergency paid sick time to supporting workers, both on the front lines and those who have lost their jobs.

MCRA is currently focusing on three areas to ensure that we make it through this crisis in an equitable way. First, Massachusetts needs to pass the Guaranteed Housing Stability Act. Second, we must ensure child care workers are safe and adequately compensated, thereby expanding access to families who need it most. Third, we need a comprehensive plan for our schools to help our students access in-person learning as soon as possible – including free and comprehensive testing and a robust vaccination program.

How did we get to the point that competent government intervention is so urgently needed? Throughout the pandemic, the multiracial working class’s solutions have been proposed at every turn to alleviate the suffering of our fellow residents. Yet this crisis has been defined more by government inaction and inadequacy than by bold solutions. Why is it that schools are still scrambling to find ways to open and keep our students, teachers, staff, and communities safe? Why is it that child care workers and other essential workers are still woefully underpaid, even as major corporations and billionaires make record profits and accumulate vast wealth? Why is it that we are still facing an eviction crisis, even after we passed an eviction moratorium – why could we not sustain these efforts? And why, we must ask, are people right here in Massachusetts going hungry when we are one of the wealthiest states in the wealthiest nation on earth?

Too often, where the government has failed, mutual aid efforts and non-profits have been heroically trying to fill the void, from the Jobs with Justice Undocufund to La Colaborativa providing thousands of meals and aid in Chelsea. In late March and April, they served 11,000 families on average. Chelsea is one of the communities hit hardest by the crisis. Residents could not count on the state and federal response, so they turned to their communities to show up and support them. But we cannot make it through this crisis with mutual aid and charity alone.

Our government must do more now, and there are three areas where a substantial government investment would pay big dividends. First, our leaders can ensure that nobody loses their home due to this crisis by passing the Guaranteed Housing Stability Act. This bill is a longer-term solution to the eviction crisis, providing a year of housing stability to Massachusetts residents by banning evictions due to COVID-19-related nonpayment, stabilizing rents, preventing “no-fault” evictions, enabling homeowners to defer their mortgage payments until the end of their loans, and establishing a relief fund for small landlords. It is essential to recognize that this bill is not just about helping renters but also about landlords who need relief. Studies show that living in a neighborhood with a spike in foreclosures is associated with significant increases in urgent unscheduled hospital visits, including increases in visits for preventable conditions.

Second, we must recognize and address the child care crisis that has emerged in the wake of the pandemic. Doing so will require securing full and fair funding to make child care available and affordable for all. It also means the Commonwealth must grow the supply of child care, and in particular assist women and minority-owned family child care businesses that many low-income families and families of color depend on. There is much to be done to ensure that child care is affordable and accessible for all and that child care workers are adequately compensated. The key is to listen to the frontline experiences and amplify vulnerable families and child care workers’ voices.

Meet the Author

Mimi Ramos

Executive director, New England United 4 Justice (NEU4J)
Meet the Author

Beth Kontos

President, American Federation of Teachers-Massachusetts
Finally, we know our schools are critical for the health of our communities. That is why we need free and extensive on-site COVID-19 testing for educators, staff, and students. Likewise, pre-K-12 school employees must be vaccinated as soon as possible. And we need additional funding for the districts most impacted by COVID that can be used for such purposes as more social workers and mental health supports, compensatory academic services, smaller classes, and enhanced family support. We can accomplish this last aim by fully funding the Student Opportunity Act, which is already lagging a year behind its original implementation schedule.

Mimi Ramos is the executive director of New England United 4 Justice (NEU4J), a Boston-based organization committed to promoting social, economic, and racial justice through a strong grassroots organizing approach and direct leadership in low-income neighborhoods. Beth Kontos is the president of American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, which represents more than 23,000 public school employees, higher education faculty and staff, and public librarians across the state.