The call to action is clear. Why isn’t the Senate listening?

Maine Equal Justice advocates for Maine people with low incomes. A few weeks ago, we heard from a woman who, like so many, is struggling to get by during the pandemic.

“I have no savings,” she said, “I am really scared for my future, but I still try to find a job I can do and hope someday to retire.”

Episodes of poor health have prevented this 60-year-old from finding steady work in recent years. When her doctor found out she was working at a supermarket during the pandemic, she was ordered to stay home. Expressing deep gratitude for the help that came through the CARES Act, she explained that without additional unemployment benefits and the stimulus in April, she would have been lost.

Today, many Mainers are still out of work and still facing economic uncertainty. Even before the public health crisis, thousands of Maine families had little or no savings to help them cope with an emergency. Many struggled just to meet their basic needs for housing, food and medical care. The pandemic has only made things harder. We hear this every day from people all over the state who contact us for help.

The majority of the U.S. Senate either doesn’t hear these people or doesn’t care about the challenges they’re facing.

Back in April, members of Congress stepped up to meet this crisis and help people get through, but much of that help has now gone away. The pandemic, however, continues.

Enhanced federal unemployment benefits ended in July. In the first week of August, applications for food assistance in Maine increased by 40 percent. Applications for cash assistance tripled. MaineHousing received three times as many rental relief applications in August as they did in July. Medicaid applications increased 33 percent from March 2 to Aug. 1.

While temporary solutions have expired, the problems Mainers face grow.

The Mills administration is contemplating sweeping 10 percent budget cuts in light of the state’s economic forecast. But a pandemic is no time to cut safety net programs designed to help people in crisis. It’s no time to cut health care or education. This is a time to invest in each other and our communities. Maine’s economic recovery depends on the health and well-being of Maine people and families – throughout this public health crisis and into the future.

If Maine is going to weather this economic downturn, if every Mainer is going to get through this crisis, Congress must approve additional state fiscal relief, a boost in Medicaid funding, and direct aid to people. To that end, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act back in May. The Senate rejected that bill, and in the months since has failed to put forth a real alternative.

Instead, Senate Republican leaders are proposing a non-starter “skinny” package that includes no state and local aid, no Medicaid funding, and does very little to keep families secure during the pandemic. The president has issued executive orders that provide minimal, unreliable help to people who need much more. A boost to unemployment benefits is half of what it was and is predicted to end shortly. A moratorium on evictions comes with no assistance for the rent that will eventually come due. The real, dependable solutions people need can only come through an act of Congress.

Together with the thousands of Mainers who are losing sleep every night because of this crisis, we call on members of Congress to show us that they hear the pleas of their constituents and understand how deeply urgent this situation is. We call on our senators to do what Maine people do in times of crisis – to pull together and support those hit hardest. We call on them to move heaven and earth to restart talks, pass a bill, and provide real federal support.

And we call on them to do it now.

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