Terry H. Schwadron
June 15, 2020
Coronavirus, as we are hearing again, is not going away, even as cities and states are re-opening, some more cautiously than others.
Clearly, the White House wants us to think disease problems have passed, as Donald Trump wants to stuff tens of thousands together in a renewed start of telegenic political rallies and to advance towards the balloon-festooned Republican national Convention now likely to be in Jacksonville, Fla.
Based on a single, flawed Labor Department report, Trump has declared joblessness over, despite the evidence that the effective unemployment rate is hovering around 16.3% — -more than 20 million out of work. Based on no information, Trump wants to dismiss racial unrest, continuing systematic racism in every social service category, and the entire concept of dissent.
One thing that has not gone away is hunger.
Daily, cars stretch into the far distance at drive-up food banks, and in the cities, social service agencies are going nuts making meals for pickup. In my own neighborhood in New York City, I’ve been talking to social agencies and restaurant owners who are producing thousands of meals a day for pickup or delivery to the homes of those who cannot get out.
As David Nocenti of Union Settlement in East Harlem told me, “It would be interesting to see the government publish a running list of aid to food banks.”
Now, we are hearing confirmation that more than two months after passage of the $2 trillion Cares Act, the money for key programs to address economic disruption from the virus is moving slowly or not at all.
Aid for Food Banks
Under the Cares Act, Congress said $850 million should be spent for food banks. To date, less than $300 million has been sent out so far, staff members on the Senate Appropriations Committee have told journalists. Meanwhile, the need continues at at least 50 percent more than a year ago, according to nonprofit Feeding America.
Similarly, spending on community block grant money meant for health facilities, childcare, and services to seniors and homeless lags as well, with about $250 million spent of $9 billion appropriated.
According to The Washington Post, the same pattern is holding in money earmarked to help nursing homes bring virused homes into compliance, to extend broadband communications to rural areas, to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency purchase personal protective equipment for firefighters, and to re-stock the Strategic National Stockpile of medical supplies.
The question is why? Is it deliberate or incompetence?
Even Democrats are not suggesting deliberate foot-dragging by the Trump administration, though there is a fight afoot about extending benefits to the unemployed.
Rather, the word from auditors is that government agencies simply are struggling to deal with a lot of new demands. About half of the more than $3 trillion approved by Congress over four coronavirus bills has been obligated or committed by all federal agencies, according to calculations by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
For its part, the White House points to that same recent jobs report as saying it must be doing things right to have 2.5 million people return to work — even though that was the point of the congressional legislation, which premised aid on paying workers. And each agency is submitting separate notices of its spending plans to Congress, with only the Stockpile folks arguing that buying for the closet would take away material needed now by hospitals and front-line virus workers.
The Hunger Problem
By contrast, small business loan money got sucked up immediately, and most of the money meant for individuals went into bank deposits or in the mail.
Even before the effects of coronavirus, it was clear that America has a hunger problem — a “food security” problem — that hits unequally across the country. What the suddenness of stay-at-home orders and instant joblessness for millions did was to exaggerate that problem into the images we see of snaking lines awaiting public help in getting basic food and necessities.
I won’t be the first to say this is outrageous in as bountiful a nation as the United States is.
Somehow in its reelection messaging about building the world’s greatest economy and best army and best standard of living, the Trump administration has simply failed to acknowledge a major hunger crisis.
The fact that even when Congress and the president do acknowledge these facts through emergency legislation, it feels doubly worse that we can’t figure out to get milk, cheese and bread from farmers who are spilling unsold goods on the ground to the food banks that are scratching to get by every day.
“Food banks face going millions of dollars over budget as they struggle to meet surging demand from those hit hard by mass layoffs caused by the coronavirus pandemic,” reported The Guardian news outlet. “Across the US, not-for-profit groups are buying truckloads of increasingly expensive food to cope with the sharp increase in the “new needy” — and the dramatic decline in donations from supermarkets left empty by panic shoppers.”
It shouldn’t be so.