As the process begins on April 3 to access forgivable loans from the $2 trillion stimulus package, Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, one of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations, has organized a group of ministers nationwide to ensure communities of color gain their fair share.
In a press call on Thursday, Jackson announced that scores of clergy leaders of all denominations have held a series of conference calls to voice grave concerns about the federal oversight of deployment of relief funds tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The stimulus doesn’t address the most vulnerable. Historically, recovery programs tend to miss us,” asserts Jackson, who cited the alarming rate of black business failures and the massive decimation of black wealth during the Great Recession roughly a decade ago. This time around, he maintains, the devastation is expected to be worse as recent news reports revealed that a staggering 10 million workers have filed for unemployment benefits in the past two weeks.
“The CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security] Act has been signed by the President but not implemented,” Rainbow PUSH Senior Vice President Rev. S. Todd Yeary said on the call, maintaining that a range of execution issues had yet to be resolved by the Trump administration—especially given its inconsistent management of the publichealth crisis over the past month. He says they include:
— The approval and distribution process of the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program in which institutional lenders will make available $350 billion in guaranteed-government loans to cover payroll and other expenses. They will also focus on the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program. Yeary said coalition members have raised concerns about black entrepreneurs as well as church-based organizations, which serve as “anchors of our communities,” will gain speedy access to funds or any financial assistance at all.
— The U.S. Treasury Department’s engagement in the regulation of mortgage forbearance during the crisis instead of leaving it up to the discretion of individual financial institutions. “We are facing another mortgage crisis,” Yeary says, making reference to the 2008 meltdown of the housing market.
Beyond financial concerns, Rainbow PUSH officials believe with governors taking jurisdictional control of measures to address the crisis that “a states rights agenda” will emerge with the potential for more pernicious forms of voter suppression during the 2020 presidential election as well as greater racial disparities in healthcare and education. In fact, Yeary believes “with the shutting down of society and the school system” driving online education large numbers of students in urban communities will be placed at a disadvantage due to lack of access to computers and broadband. He asserts: “The result will be further widening of the achievement gap.”
Participants on the call also cited the need to address the containment of the coronavirus among the prison population, impact on the crisis on the 2020 census count and rise of anti-Asian sentiment due to harmful, xenophobic rhetoric like President Trump characterizing the COVID-19 pandemic as the “Chinese virus.”
Jackson, who has talked with President Trump about crisis relief over the past week, has stressed next steps include outreach to legislators, including the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about independent oversight of relief efforts. Moreover, he is calling on SBA officials to join coalition conference calls to spell out program details and provide much-needed education to members of their congregations.