While the Pelosi and Schumer-led Democrats and Mnuchin and Meadows-led Republicans continue their staredown to see who will be the first to flinch, millions of Americans are facing the life-shattering possibility of being evicted from their homes or rental properties. Just imagine someone knocking on your door with an eviction notice telling you to vacate your living space. You may have children. You may have accumulated many possessions over the years. You have no resources to store your belongings. You’re going out onto the street. Sounds dire? Bet your sweet tuchus it is. But that’s what life is or will be for thousands of Americans who did all the right things—finished school, got married, are raising kids.
This will be their American nightmare because the country was hit with a pandemic while under the leadership of a very disturbed individual. Our President put on quite a show issuing executive orders that he said would supersede the need for congressional intervention. The problem is his orders were not worth the paper they were written on. There will be no reprieve for individuals and families facing eviction.
It is estimated up to 40 million Americans could face eviction in the coming weeks and months. We are talking about levels of homelessness not seen since the Great Depression. There is probably nothing Congress can do to save them all. The federal government acted quickly to flood corporations with cash to keep them afloat. They need to do the same to keep families—particularly those with children—with roofs over their heads. Congress needs to extend the CARES Act with additional funding for housing assistance. Not surprising, people of color will be hit hardest by the impending eviction tsunami.
Until Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond created the Eviction Lab, there was no system for tracking the number of evictions occurring throughout the nation. The MacArthur “Genius” Award winner, tracked eight families in Milwaukee as each struggled to keep a roof over their heads. His Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, was a New York Times bestseller and a personal favorite of former President Barack Obama. Backed by several funders, including the Gates and Ford Foundations, the Eviction Lab’s innovative website provides publicly-available data and information about residential instability, forced moves, and poverty.
Providing affordable housing for all Americans has been an enduring challenge. Even before the pandemic, more than half a million Americans were without a stable place to call home on any given night. Some doubled up with relatives and friends. An increasing number were living in their cars. These include families with children, veterans, and a significant number of unaccompanied youth. It is estimated that 25 percent of the homeless has a severe mental illness and nearly half have some type of mental problem.
In this time of racial awakening we have learned to expect that most, if not all, social ills disproportionately impact Americans of color. Mass evictions and homelessness will devastate brown and black communities. Dr. Desmond knows a lot about the racial aspects of poverty and homelessness having authored two books on the subject including Race in America, co-authored with Dr. Mustafa Emirbayer, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where Desmond received his PhD in 2010.
It was only a matter of time before our inability to provide affordable housing for all Americans would collide with another public catastrophe. We obviously did not learn much from Hurricane Katrina. Even before the pandemic began, homelessness was a major problem in this country with thousands of Americans without stable housing. Before we blame the evil, greedy landlords who are too quick to force people onto the street—and there are many—some landlords are in the same boat as their tenants. They depend on the rent they receive from tenants to pay the mortgage on their homes.
I am among the fortunate. I own my residence so I am not in danger of being evicted. I filed for unemployment two months ago and I am still waiting for the first payment. Thank God for Social Security which Trump and his minions would like to bankrupt by eliminating the payroll tax. Otherwise I could easily be homeless. I am able to sequester in my abode escaping the COVID-19 virus as best I can. I pray for the millions of Americans who are not as blessed as I am.
The most outrageous debate occurring in the nation’s capital this week is whether the federal government should provide relief to state and local governments as they struggle to gain control of the Covid-19 pandemic. Really? We are aware of how the convoluted thinking of Donald Trump works to undercut this much needed relief—he believes states and cities under the leadership of Democrats have been irresponsible with budgets and are not deserving of receiving money from the federal government. He must sign the legislation so Senate Republicans feel obligated to carry his water.
Complicating negotiations are ideological differences. Take funding for schools as an example. School districts are facing seemingly unsurmountable budgetary demands as they struggle to adjust to the tsunami of the pandemic. Democrats are rightfully insisting that the bulk of funding goes to public schools while Republicans are seeking significant funding for private schools. Republicans are pushing to open schools hastily to please Trump who needs to resurrect the economy quickly if he is to have any chance of holding on to his seat of power. Few, if any, disagree with the need for students to return to classrooms but the health risks are significant.
Whose money are we talking about anyway? Our money. These are taxpayer dollars that our elected representatives are debating. A recent CNBC/Change Research poll of swing-state voters in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin found that more than two-thirds (69%) of responding voters support federal relief for states and local governments. Yet, if no action is taken, thousands of state and local government employees will be laid off, many infrastructure projects will be curtailed forcing more layoffs, cuts will be made to community and economic development programs that support local businesses, and health systems will be stretched to their limits as they struggle to contain the coronavirus.
The poll also found that a majority of respondents (62%) wants the government to continue to provide enhanced unemployment benefits of $600 weekly to workers idled by COVID-19. This has been a major sticking point in the negotiations as staunch conservative Republicans are convinced that many workers are being paid more than they earn on the job and would prefer to stay home than to return to work. Sounds logical but think about this—if your employer calls you back to work and you refuse, what is the likely outcome? You would be out of a job. A recent Yale study found no effects. Eighty percent of voters also want the feds to send another $1,200 check to Americans earning less than $99,000.
The poll also found that only a third of respondents supports giving businesses legal immunity from lawsuits from workers forced to return under less than optimal conditions which is roughly the number of Trump’s most zealous supporters. So why don’t our representatives just follow the public’s wishes? Their lack of response seems to confirm Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page’s research that found affluence means influence.
Of course, there are a handful of Republican senators who have a newfound concern about budget deficits. These are the same gentlemen who have been supporting huge tax cuts for the wealthy including the recent Tax Cut and Jobs Act that failed on its promises and added to the federal deficit. They were all too ready to rescue businesses in the wake of the pandemic with a $2 trillion CARES Act that will add more to the deficit. Some of that money found its way into the pockets of congressmembers and hedge fund managers. There is no end in sight to the Federal Reserve’s funding of the corporate sector. Yet, some of these same senators gave Barack Obama hell for his relatively modest $831 billion stimulus package.
Most economists agree that this latest round of bailouts will only worsen economic inequality. The economy is broken and in dire need of repair and rebalancing. Workers have waiting for the trickle down since Ronald Reagan. Removing Trump from office is only the beginning. We cannot lose sight of the fact that unless substantial structural changes are made to our society and economy the plutocrats will continue to rule and the masses will be fighting among ourselves for the crumbs falling from the masters’ tables. There will be little chance for racial equity and justice in the oligarchy.
Summer is winding down and it is usually the time parents and children begin preparing for the coming school year. Tragically, this year countless families and children will experience unimaginable trauma because of all the uncertainty that accompanies a relentless pandemic. There is absolute consensus that children need to be in school. They need to continue their development. They need to socialize with friends. And many of their parents need them to be back in their routine if there is any chance they will return to work and provide for their wellbeing. For too many children, school is also their guarantee of a nourishing meal.
Sparring politicians vacillate while millions of unemployed Americans have lost their lifeline of an adequate unemployment check. Thousands are facing eviction from their housing as the moratorium ends. How can one even begin to think about school if you don’t have a secure place to live? The so-called leader of the free world has decided to stop acting like he is the President, spending his days looking for something or someone to blame for his incompetence. I get nauseous each time our congressional representatives exit a meeting with the message that they are making progress. If there is deal to be made, then make it.
In the face of all of this, there are social workers and other scholars who are trying to devise contingencies to navigate the dysfunction. Dr. Michael S. Kelly, professor at Loyola University School of Social Work, and Dr. Ron Avi Astor, professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affair, along with several colleagues, recently released a research brief for policymakers that addresses many of the concerns confronting parents and schools in deciding when and how to open. Many of the schools in the survey are catastrophes without the pandemic. Covid-19 exacerbates problems that have existed for years.
Titled, In The COVID-19 Era: School Social Workers’ Experiences and Recommendations, the brief presents findings from a study of 1275 school social workers detailing the challenges confronting schools beset by the pandemic. Most of the social workers practice in low-income schools and communities. In half of the schools, more than 60 percent of students were eligible for free or subsidized lunch. Unsurprisingly, they serve a large proportion of Black, Latino and other minority students with great needs for food, housing, physical and mental health services. Although many display remarkable resolve in meeting these challenges, much of the work is done with few resources and governmental support.
After reading the brief and the more detailed technical report, it seems social workers are being asked once again to suit up for mission impossible. “We need a Manhattan Project-style initiative that pulls together all relevant professions—educators, administrators, school psychologists, counselors, social workers, nurses, and other health professionals—to create strategic plans for the upcoming school year,” the authors conclude. They are seeking a national plan for the short and long term to go fully online, go fully in-person, or a hybrid that would include online and in-person activities. Need for a national plan. Sounds familiar.
Events of the past few month demonstrate just how broken our system is. Public awareness has increased about the deadly effects of racism. I hope we are learning about the danger of placing the future of the country essentially in the hands of capitalists whose primary preoccupation is instant gratification from higher profits and a rising stock market. There is a price to pay for dallying as economic inequality and global warming proceeds apace with little attention and mediation. Donald Trump is not the problem. He is a symptom of all that is wrong with our social contract.
In a recent public forum, Columbia School of Social Work dean Dr. Melissa Begg said it is time we bring social work thinking to various interdisciplinary tables. I am intrigued by the idea of social work thinking. At the least it is informed by our unique set of values. The latest Gallup Poll reports 86 percent of Americans believe our country is headed in the wrong direction. What ideas to social workers have that might help right this ship? We have the scholars. We have the science. But are we putting our thinking to what is needed the most? We will soon launch the Social Work Democracy Project that will generate ideas about where this country needs to be headed. Stay tuned.