A Collective Demand for Pandemic Relief

In contrast to recent rallies against COVID-19 restrictions, Staten Island Coalition Organizes Campaign Demanding Immediate Pandemic Relief from Congress

A Collective Demand for Pandemic Relief
Sign from CWA rally for worker safety. (CWA Local 1102)

A coalition of Staten Island groups including La Colmena, the Pride Center of Staten Island, and CWA Local 1102 launched a campaign Friday, December 11, to demand collective economic security through federal COVID-19 relief. The letter calling for “the swift passage of a comprehensive COVID relief bill before the end of the year,” comes as cases are surging locally, and the Island has seen the highest one-day increase since April.

The coalition’s campaign for federal COVID-19 relief was launched by Move Forward Staten Island, a non-partisan organization focused on advancing social justice issues in the community through civic engagement, education, grassroots organizing, and policy advocacy. The campaign was initially a statement in opposition of the Proud Boys involvement at the Mac’s Public House Rally. The rally was alarming for its presence of the far-right, neo-fascist Proud Boys, its disregard of COVID-19 public health guidelines, and that congresswoman-elect Nicole Malliotakis was among the supporters who gathered at Mac’s to declare her support. In her December 10 appearance on NY1, Malliotakis pointed to the Supreme Court’s overturning of New York State attendance caps at religious services as confirming the coronavirus mandates were “arbitrary decisions by our governor."

Seeking to counter the individualistic pursuits of rally attendees, the coalition is demanding COVID relief for collective health and economic security.

“So many of our neighbors are hurting which is why it’s so important for us to quickly pass a relief bill” Julienne Verdi, director of Move Forward Staten Island, and a owner and Principal Attorney at J. Verdi Law, LLC said. “The best way to support our small businesses is by keeping the pressure on to pass a relief bill before year’s end and by all of us doing our part to reduce the spread of COVID-19 while we wait for widespread vaccination.”

In the congresswoman-elect’s appearance on NY1, the day before the relief campaign’s launch, Malliotakis called on the current congress to pass relief immediately. When asked if Malliotakis had expressed her support for their letter, Verdi said “we have not heard from Congresswoman-Elect Malliotakis [but] would certainly welcome her support of our efforts.”

A group of Senators representing the two major parties introduced a two-part coronavirus relief bill Monday, December 14. If unpassed, it threatens to shutdown government agencies with funding set to expire Friday, December 18, at midnight. It has been nine months since the federal government passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The stimulus package at $2.2 trillion was the largest economic stimulus in United States history, but less than 14 percent was set aside for direct relief to individuals through, one time direct payments of $1,200.

Eligibility requirements for CARES Act relief payments excluded aid for those that did not file taxes in previous years, and the 8 million undocumented working across the nation.

“Undocumented, low-wage, day workers have suffered most, both in their exclusion from any financial relief, but also in their loss of day work,” Ruth Silverberg, a Professor of Education at the College of Staten Island, said.

The coalition’s letter calls for an upcoming relief to “apply for all regardless of immigration status.” As a delegate to the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) CUNY, the union that represents the College of Staten Island faculty and staff, and one of the campaign signees, Silverberg notes that “immigrant workers have kept our borough functioning at all levels, including those undocumented”.

"To continue to deny them the same relief as any other member of our community is both inhumane and economically unsound,” she said.

Alternatives to the CARES Act relief were proposed at the time, such as the People’s Bailout. The People’s Bailout called for a response to the crisis that would combat “inequality, not double down on the unjust status quo” through health relief for all people regardless of status, excluding corporate executives from rescue, and transitioning to a regenerative economy. This expansive stimulus package received only two mentions in leading national news outlets despite being endorsed by nearly 100 members of Congress.

An effort in May by Congress to provide additional direct payments to individuals coined the HEROES Act, was passed by the House but blocked in the Senate by Republicans. By October, Staten Island’s unemployment rate was 10.8 percent, fourth highest of any county in the State. New York City’s unemployment rate is three times larger than this time last year.

Between November 11 and 23, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that nearly 26 million adults — 12 percent of all adults in the country — reported that their household sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat. In late November New York City reached an unfortunate return to pre-pandemic normalcy, a Brooklyn tenant became the first legal eviction since March.

Signing groups like CWA Local 1102, are optimistic if relief can be passed as outlined in their letter. President Steve Lawton notes the coalition has a “connection to this community, and we want to create the environment for it to succeed.”

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