States need federal help to weather COVID-19
As fallout from COVID-19 continues to spread, states are battered by rising costs, declining revenues, and massive unemployment. In the last week alone, 3.8 million Americans filed unemployment claims, bringing the total number of unemployed to more than 30 million. The non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities now projects $350 billion in state budget shortfalls in FY2021—an increase of $60 billion in just a week. School buildings housing more than 45 million students in 43 states and Washington, DC, have shut down, according to Education Week, and layoffs of educators and other public employees have begun.
To help states weather what could be the worst economic downturn in U.S. history, NEA is asking Congress for an additional $175 billion to stabilize education funding—the $30.7 billion authorized thus far is not nearly enough. The non-partisan National Governors Association is calling for even more—an additional $500 billion in direct relief to state and local governments. But Congress needs to hear from us. Right now. A decade ago, during the Great Recession, state and local governments scrapped essential student services and laid off tens of thousands of educators. We can’t let that happen again. TAKE ACTION
Narrow the digital divide and close the homework gap
“People like to talk about opportunity all the time, but I always say without access, opportunity means nothing,” says Oklahoma drama and speech teacher Shawna Mott-Wright. She estimates that as many as half of her students at Tulsa’s Memorial High School—where more than 80 percent of students are from lower-income families—can’t engage in distance learning. They either don’t have devices, or they don’t have high-speed internet access.
As part of the next COVID-19 legislative package, NEA is pushing Congress to help narrow the digital divide and close the homework gap—the inability to do schoolwork at home due to lack of internet access. Nationwide, as many as 12 million students are affected—roughly 1 in 5. A disproportionate share of those students are African-American, Hispanic, live in rural areas, or come from low-income families. The Emergency Educational Connections Act (H.R. 6563) provides a $2 billion down payment for a special fund, administered by the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate program, to equip students with internet access; the Senate version, which will be introduced this week, provides $4 billion to support students for the duration of the 2020-21 school year. TAKE ACTION
May 4-8 is Teacher Appreciation Week
Now more than ever, it is fitting that we celebrate educators—teachers and ESPs—and their unwavering fortitude, optimism, creativity, and love for students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bipartisan resolutions, introduced in both chambers to designate May 4-8 Teacher Appreciation Week, note that educators “have stepped up in new ways to support their students and communities, including by coordinating remote learning, supporting students’ mental health, providing meals to students in need, and distributing technology to students.” The resolutions are sponsored by Reps. Sam Graves (R-MO) and Dave Loebsack (D-IA) and Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Tell your members of Congress to contact one of them to become a cosponsor. TAKE ACTION
Cheers and Jeers
Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Alma Adams (D-NC) are leading a Dear Colleague letter urging House leadership to include student loan debt cancellation in any future coronavirus relief package.
Reps. Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL), Robin Kelly (D-IL), and Raul Ruiz (D-CA) spoke at a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute virtual briefing on addressing COVID-19 health disparities.
Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) Introduced the Emergency Unemployment Insurance Stabilization and Access Act (H.R. 6199), which provides $1 billion to strengthen unemployment insurance and was incorporated in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act signed into law on March 18.
Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) and nearly two dozen others wrote to Senate leadership asking to raise SNAP benefits by 15 percent as well as increase the monthly minimum benefit from $16 to $30 for all households, something that would particularly impact single Americans who might only qualify for the minimum benefit.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is bringing the Senate back to Washington to confirm more judges despite the COVID-19 pandemic and urgent need to help those whose health and financial well-being have been affected by it.