While the lessons of the harrowing COVID-19 virus are still emerging, one has become crystal clear: We now see food security, housing, health care and jobs for all as essential.

Deep down, we have always known the value of these. However, when our safety nets are gone, we see the urgent need for action. I believe it is a time for leaders to convene and plan how to rebuild our communities, to advocate for basic needs, and to implement new policies for a better future for all our residents. This is historic, and we need to have historic collective thinking, action and leadership.

In fewer than 30 days, more than 90,000 Mainers have filed for unemployment. Many (70,000 Mainers) who are independent contractors and sole proprietors are also out of work, and they cannot apply for traditional unemployment, but may be able for help through a newly created temporary federal program that just started taking applications on Friday. Hundreds of newly arrived asylum seekers who are legally authorized to work cannot qualify for assistance – even though they have paid into the system. Additionally, many frontline undocumented workers who pay taxes and help businesses generate revenues cannot receive help. Significant worries about financial survival and basic needs now plague almost one in five working Mainers, and that number is sure to go higher.

As a seismic shift deeply impacts the working poor – workers who live paycheck to paycheck – how will our financial and institutional leaders respond? How will we respond to the emerging needs of the very communities for whom our safety net was built? Are we poised with the right resources to feed, clothe, house and provide health care? The national average of savings for the working poor in the U.S. is less than $400 in the bank. This amount is not enough to pay the bills, and each passing week, without help or supplemental income, that debt grows.

In these historic times, we need leaders in finances, philanthropy, business and government to come together to design our next steps. We need honest and courageous conversations about how private and nonprofit sectors may work together through focused giving and strategic investments. A special, one-time donation or special grant waiver or exceptions will not be enough; thus, foundations need to shift their giving, create long-term strategies and advise policymakers.

Before this time, the stock market generated one of the greatest concentrations of wealth in the last 11 years. The stock market generated more than 350 percent in income for its investors while the income for the working poor remained flat. Remarkably, during the Great Recession in 2009, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which tracks the stock prices of a selection of major companies, was at 6,547. This past week, it finished at 23,715.  This means corporations, retirement funds, hedge funds and many foundations have seen their wealth increase more than threefold in 11 years.  Now is the time for corporations and foundations to increase their giving and help those who have been left out.

The wealthiest are well-protected, but we cannot survive if 20 percent or more of our workers are displaced. The city can’t pay for safety nets. We cannot simply raise taxes or fees, because this regressive action will ultimately hurt the very people who are struggling. I encourage foundation and corporate leaders to redirect their giving to address long-term basic needs in our community: feed, house, clothe, assist with health care and help develop the workforce for the nearly 20 percent Mainers who are unemployed.

I have seen the tremendous power of merging the different sectors – foundations, businesses and state government agencies – together for the common good. As a current city councilor on the Health and Human Services and Economic Development Committees, I understand the critical need to restore our safety net and offer that strategic investments will grow and rebuild our economy. We need to prioritize the basic needs of the most vulnerable Mainers and suspend special projects until basic needs are met, unemployment for the working poor is mitigated, and new sectors are created to employ workers. I hope we can work collaboratively, and soon.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.