Opinion / Editorial
It’s clear the coronavirus has had a devastating impact on workers, families and businesses in Maricopa County and across Arizona. Our community is hurting and without immediate action from Congress, even more families will lose the federal supports that are keeping them from economic collapse.
Locally, requests for food, rental and utility assistance and laptops and hotspots for students, are skyrocketing. Our nonprofit community, which is feeling its own financial impact due to COVID-19, is stretched to meet the demand. Valley of the Sun United Way launched the United for the Valley COVID-19 Fund with the support of businesses, foundations and community leaders, and in collaboration with the Arizona Community Foundation. With that support, we’ve distributed more than $2.5 million to local nonprofit and education partners, providing services to more than 543,000 individuals.
And, the need continues. According to the Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity, for the week ending on June 27, continued claims for unemployment insurance in Arizona were 711.6% higher than the same time a year ago.
In March, thanks to the bipartisan efforts from Senator McSally, Senator Sinema, and Congress members - Biggs, Gallego, Gosar, Grijalva, Kirkpatrick, Lesko, O’Halleran, Schweikert, and Stanton - Congress passed legislation to help families stay in their homes, keep food on the table and make ends meet. Now Congress must act quickly, and in a bipartisan manner, to pass another bill to address the long-lasting impact of this pandemic.
Valley of the Sun United Way joins United Ways across the nation to urge Congress to include these six provisions in the COVID-19 relief bill currently being discussed.
1. Expand universal charitable giving incentives
Demand for nonprofit services in Maricopa County, and across Arizona, increased considerably due to COVID-19. Yet, charitable donations across the U.S. dropped by 6% in the first quarter of 2020, due to job loss and economic uncertainty.
The temporary $300 charitable deduction included in the CARES Act is a step in the right direction. By co-sponsoring the bipartisan Universal Giving Pandemic Response Act, the charitable tax deduction will be expanded and Congress will relieve the strain on charities that are facing massive increases in demand for basic services and huge drops in giving, as well as relieve donors of the tax burden on their charitable donation.
2. Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) for working individuals and families
EITC and CTC are among the best tools we have to fight poverty. When the economy weakens, many workers lose their earned income and thus would no longer qualify for the EITC, which helps them stabilize their income. To address this problem, filers should be able to use their income from 2019 or 2020 when calculating their 2020 EITC and CTC, as policymakers have done for families affected by hurricanes and natural disasters in the past.
The expansion of the EITC and CTC will stimulate a weak economy and help families cover food, transportation and electric bills.
3. Increase funding for Medicaid
Medicaid is a lifeline for millions, especially during today’s joint health and economic crisis. In order to protect families and provide access to much-needed care, states need increased Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) funding that will last until we’re through COVID-19 and the economy has recovered.
Every dollar spent on increasing FMAP adds two dollars to our gross domestic product. Increased FMAP funding reaches states quickly and frees up dollars that can be reallocated to areas of greatest need. Increasing the federal Medicaid match rate by at least 12%, for the duration of the pandemic, is one of the most effective economic boosts Congress can offer during this unprecedented crisis.
4. Provide supplemental emergency funding for programs that create financial stability for families and communities
In record numbers, callers are dialing 211 to speak with a trained community resource specialist and access available resources to help meet their needs. An emergency investment in this vital resource will boost 211’s capacity to answer tens of millions of new calls including inquiries about COVID-19, mental health services and essential needs to help families and individuals get through the pandemic.
The Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP) has been supporting those most at risk of homelessness and hunger, due to this health and economic crisis. Congress should continue to strengthen EFSP.
The childcare system needs emergency funding to keep the sector afloat. Providers are facing uncertain enrollment and increased operating expenses to meet new and important health and safety standards. Without access to care, millions of Americans will not be able to return to their jobs. If we want a successful economic recovery, working parents need to be able to access quality, reliable childcare.
5. Increase monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits
Due to COVID-19, there has been a spike in families experiencing food insecurity and 14 million children in our country are still not getting enough to eat.
When American families were facing elevated hunger and food insecurity in wake of the 2008 Recession, Congress increased monthly SNAP benefits by 15%. In the face of a pandemic and even deeper economic crisis, surely Congress can make this same commitment.
6. Invest more in enhanced unemployment insurance and Economic Impact Payments
While the previous economic relief packages have provided much-needed relief for workers, children and families, many are facing uncertainty in how they will continue to make ends meet. We must further extend unemployment insurance benefits to respond to the continuing job losses and furloughs happening across the country and here in our community. We also must provide additional cash support for individuals and families, including seniors and very low-income Americans, so they have access to this critical support.
Arizonans can’t wait! We’re counting on our congressional delegation to vote for America’s and Arizona’s recovery now.
Jenny Holsman Tetreault
Chair, Board of Directors, Valley of the Sun United Way
Assistant General Counsel, Field Operations, West and Northwest, US Foods
Vice Chair, Board of Directors, Valley of the Sun United Way
Chairman & CEO, Sunbelt Holdings
Carla Vargas Jasa
President & CEO, Valley of the Sun United Way