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  • Taylor Dibbert

Responding to COVID-19 and Leaving No One Behind

As the coronavirus crisis deepens in the Takoma Park and Long Branch areas, its lasting effects are far from clear. What’s become increasingly obvious is that COVID-19 has brought devasting economic consequences.

People will keep losing jobs. Unemployment claims will soar. Families will come under increasing strain. But what about those members of our community who do not have Social Security Numbers? Who will support those who don’t have access to government assistance?

They are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. They are friends and colleagues working in a range of areas and industries – from restaurants to retail and so much more.

CHEER is out with a new report that underscores the urgent need for answers to the abovementioned questions. CHEER’s Executive Director Bruce Baker, the author of the report, writes that “it appears that the financial burdens due to income and employment loss is the biggest concern for those that CHEER works with in the Long Branch and Takoma Park communities.”

There’s a pressing need to provide income support to people at risk of falling through the cracks. Nowhere is this truer than when it comes to the immigrant community in the Takoma Park and Long Branch areas.

43% of people interviewed for the report are worried about what comes next. There’s the father of two on Maple Avenue who has just lost his job; he and his wife are now struggling to pay the bills. There’s the family running low on diapers and not sure what to do. Other people’s hours have been reduced. More broadly, there are growing worries about how long this crisis will last and who will step in to help these families.

Vanesa Pinto, CHEER’s Community Programs Director, was heavily involved in gathering data for the report. She tells me that “the number one concern for all [the people interviewed] is next month's rent and utilities will be required to be paid but not knowing where to get some support.” Pinto cited the quality of education that interviewees’ kids would receive (via remote learning) as another big concern.

This pandemic is far from over. Going forward, compiling lessons learned and being prepared for a similar event will be crucial. But how we respond – right now – is hugely important too. Indeed, an adequate local response means that no one is left behind, that everyone gets the help that they need.

Tragedy brings pain. Yet tragedy can also bring people together. It’s in this spirit that CHEER will work in the coming days and months.

This public health crisis can bring out the best in us. There’s the opportunity to strengthen existing bonds and establish new ones; to bridge racial and socioeconomic divides; to reconsider what the word “community” actually means; to think with both our heads and our hearts; to get off the sidelines and jump into the arena – through advocacy, altruism or other means. We are all in this together, really.

Now’s the moment for bold, creative thinking. Time is of the essence. Failing to act isn’t an option.

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