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As Pandemic Policies End, Advocacy RampsUp
As COVID-19 upended daily life, governments put in place a host of policies designed to support those whose physical and financial health were affected by the pandemic. In recent weeks, many of these policies – which included eviction moratoriums, expanded public benefits and enhanced unemployment insurance – expired. Catholic Charities is closely watching how the phase-out of these supports affects Marylanders and how it can advocate for those who need continued assistance.
“Folks who were struggling before the pandemic and during the pandemic are going to be struggling after,” said Lisa Klingenmaier, assistant director of advocacy for Catholic Charities. “And folks who are the lowest income and most marginalized take the longest to recover.”
Eviction moratoriums at the federal and state level prevented landlords from kicking out tenants affected by COVID-19 for not paying their rent. These policies began expiring this summer, and the number of eviction cases now working through the courts has already created an extensive backlog. While that backlog may help some tenants stay in their homes for longer, Klingenmaier said she worried that more people will be evicted during cold winter months.
“There is a concern that a slow wave of evictions is coming,” she said. “In Baltimore City, 25,000 households are behind in rent and in jeopardy of being evicted.”
Rental assistance programs provide one stopgap for these evictions. Counties – and Baltimore City – continue to distribute this funding, providing an option for tenants to catch up on their rent. Catholic Charities is also supporting efforts to provide renters with access to lawyers who can help explain their rights in housing-related cases.
Enhanced unemployment payments introduced during the pandemic ended in August.
“It’s bad. People have been using that income and our economy hasn’t completely recovered,” said Director of Advocacy Regan Vaughan. “The pandemic was also a wake-up call for people to realize they want more than just a paycheck. They want benefits.”
She predicted lessons learned during the pandemic will energize workforce initiatives around paid leave, sick leave, family leave and other benefits. Catholic Charities will lead or join those advocacy efforts, as well as supporting people through workforce development programs that provide training and connections to employment.
During the pandemic, the federal government issued short-term nutrition benefits to eligible children to make up for meals they would have received in school. With schools resuming in-person classes, those enhanced payments ended, just as many food-distribution programs launched during the pandemic also wound down. But the federal government recently changed the way it calculates Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and starting in October, recipients will see a 30 percent increase.
Also during the pandemic, Maryland boosted amount of cash assistance and disability assistance by $100 per person. That increase will end in January, but Catholic Charities will advocate for the state to use federal funding to phase out the change rather than cutting it off all at once, Vaughan said.
Vaughan’s and Klingenmaier’s familiarity with federal, state and local programs also allows them to point Catholic Charities clients or staff to a variety of pandemic-related initiatives that may not fall on their traditional watch list. As an example, they mentioned the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s funeral assistance program, which reimburses individuals – without income restrictions – who covered the funeral costs of someone whose death was related to COVID-19.
Catholic Charities’ staff will continue to watch what kinds of help clients and partners need and evaluate the best channels through which to advocate, now and during the state’s legislative session, which starts in January.