As we face the unprecedented twin crises of a deadly global pandemic and the economic devastation it has caused, thousands of Maine people – and millions of Americans – have lost their jobs and their health insurance. Hospitals and medical providers are struggling, and rural communities are at risk of losing access to quality health care.

A recent report by Families USA found that between February and May of this year, 5.4 million laid-off workers became uninsured. Limiting these workers’ access to health care just as the coronavirus spreads across the country could cause the worst public health crisis in a century, costing thousands of people their lives and many times more their health.

We must come together and act as a country to relieve the pain and suffering created by COVID-19. And there’s something the U.S. Senate can do right now to help in that effort.

The U.S. Senate is considering legislation to respond to the hardships caused by the coronavirus as it continues to rage in much of the country. Among the many important ideas under consideration is one that is critical to the health of Maine people and their ability to see a doctor when they are sick or injured: Utilizing our nation’s Medicaid program to help relieve both the strain on families and the strain on our health care system.

The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed legislation called the HEROES Act, which would increase the portion of the cost of Medicaid that is covered by the federal government by 14 percentage points. Now the Senate’s HEALS Act has the opportunity to match the House’s good work or even improve upon it.

The damage caused by COVID-19 will have a devastating impact on state and local budgets. Without support from the federal government, states could be forced to make horrible decisions that take critical supports away from families just when they need them most. By increasing federal support for Medicaid, the Senate has the chance to save hospitals and save lives, while also preventing state and local cuts that would further harm the economy, slow our recovery from COVID-19 and exacerbate harmful inequities.

The Maine Council of Churches represents more than 425 congregations around the state. And while our denominational traditions differ, we are united by our shared values of justice, compassion and peace. As people of faith, we take seriously God’s call to care for those who are vulnerable: neighbors who live in poverty, are oppressed by racism, are sick, are very young or very old. We seek to love these neighbors as ourselves. And we believe that public policy is much more than numbers on a spreadsheet or debates between right and left. We believe the laws we enact are concrete statements of our morals. They reveal what we value and choose to prioritize.

A vote by the Senate to increase federal support for Medicaid would be a moral statement and would reveal that we, as a nation, value compassion, justice and the human right of access to health care. It is our hope that these values will guide political leaders as they consider COVID-19 relief legislation and will lead them to adopt policies, such as supporting Medicaid, that provide help to those who need it the most.

When the crises we face today have passed, we will all be judged on how we have treated our neighbors who struggled most. We cannot allow good health and access to affordable health care slip from the reach of people who need it. If we do, the consequences will be damning and history will hold us to account for our failure to protect one another during a time of dire need.

As we face this modern-day plague, let us look to our values to guide our actions and ensure that people have access to life-saving health care.

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