On April 23 the U.S. House of Representatives approved Congress’s latest COVID-19 relief package by a 388-5 vote. Among other things it provides more money for small businesses, hospitals, and testing. In her remarks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said:
“We come to the floor with such heartache, with such sorrow about those who have lost their lives and their loved ones, those who are suffering from the virus’s assault now, and for those who are in doubt about their economic situation. It’s about the lives and the livelihood of the American people. Nearly 900,000 Americans have been diagnosed and are sick. Nearly 55,000 have tragically died. We have to be prayerful, prayerful about this assault, again, on the lives and livelihood of the American people.”
She quoted Pope Francis’s recent prayer asking that God would enlighten those who have responsibility to take responsibility for those in their care.
It is encouraging to see bipartisan efforts to provide relief during the COVID-19 crisis spearheaded by leaders including Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Speaker Pelosi has long been a champion of children’s needs and families’ needs. This bill and two earlier bipartisan measures passed by Congress are important steps forward for children and families. Now, as our leaders begin to look ahead to the next round of support, children living in poverty who are shamefully our poorest age group in our wealthy nation, children of color, children in the foster care system, and those in mixed immigration status families continue to need more help as the devastation continues to grow. As Speaker Pelosi said of the latest bill: “We have a great victory for the American people, but we certainly need to do more.”
The unique and urgent needs of our children must be a key Congressional priority to help the American people weather this pandemic threatening all of our lives. Millions of children have lost the stability and routines that all children and parents depend on. These include daily routines with beloved caretakers and teachers and classmates. For millions, it’s meant the loss of regular instruction in school—leaving children already in danger of falling behind at risk of falling even further behind. And for families who have lost jobs and income, more help is needed immediately. We can’t allow this crisis to exacerbate existing disparities and hit our most vulnerable children the hardest.
CDF is urging Congress to increase direct cash assistance and other support for low income families; make additional investments in critical programs to ensure needy children and families get the nutritious food required to survive; increase funding to ensure children access to safe, stable housing and avoid the threat of more homelessness during this crisis; expand child welfare funding to help states meet the needs of the child welfare system; ensure access to comprehensive, affordable health coverage and care; provide additional significant dedicated funding for child care; ensure adequate support for K-12 schools to support students and families as the unprecedented need for virtual instruction and other services grows; expand paid sick days and paid family and medical leave benefits and unemployment insurance to ensure they reach all workers for the duration of this crisis; and ensure relief and access to services for all regardless of immigration status.
Vulnerable children in this unprecedented crisis need help and Congress must continue to do everything it can to provide it. Children’s safety and well being must be a priority for all of us.
(Marian Wright Edelman is founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind mission is to ensure every child a healthy start, a head start, a fair start, a safe start and a moral start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information, go to <childrensdefense.org>).