While the emergency set off by the coronavirus created new challenges and higher levels of stress for most of us and has been devastating for so many, it also created unimaginable financial and emotional hardships for thousands of Long Islanders.
For many families, the basic necessities that most of us took for granted pre-COVID-19 — housing, food, employment, health care and the funding of vital programs that tens of thousands of children and adults depend on every day — are no longer a sure thing.
The $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill will have far-reaching impacts on multiple facets of life for many of our neighbors. Emergency rental assistance, extended unemployment benefits, and mortgage assistance are issues that have become daily problems. While each family situation is unique, poverty is the consistent underlining factor that many of our social workers encounter.
In some cases, the stimulus checks will pay for rent and utility bills. Some will use the money for car payments, insurance, or repairs. Some families with young children may qualify for services and additional food from the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, which was created to help pregnant women, caregivers, and parents with a child under 5. The bill includes funding to help more families access WIC.
However helpful such programs are, they don’t aid families with daily staples such as diapers, personal care, hygiene items, and over-the-counter medication. Long Island food pantries have expanded stock to include other essentials, but over the past year the need has outpaced availability, which forces many to make unenviable choices to survive.
The combination of the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit, which subsidize low-income working families, will help lift people out of poverty, specifically by helping to bring our next generation of children out of environments where deprivation is too common.
College students and adult dependents, groups not included in the last two relief packages of 2020, will be eligible for crucial aid. With the high cost of rental housing on Long Island, this will provide a financial lifeline to young adults who may live on their own, paying a majority of their own expenses, and are working but are still claimed on their parents’ tax returns.
The money earmarked to help schools and local governments will enhance their coordination with area nonprofits and civic organizations to fill the gaps that accompany mental health conditions and/or severe poverty. Having well-funded educational programs enhances not only the experience of the child but influences the entire family unit.
The key effect on nonprofits is the mitigation of cuts to critical services that would have come from state and local governments losing funding had the bill not passed. We know that mental health counseling, addiction prevention and treatment, advocacy programs, and care coordination services have become even more crucial due to the isolation of social distancing and working remotely.
Throughout the COVID-19 health emergency, many nonprofits have expanded existing programs to help the most vulnerable of our neighbors. The relief package will help Long Island’s children and adults work though the challenges of the pandemic and build a brighter future.
Karen Boorshtein is president of Family Service League, a Suffolk County-based nonprofit human services agency.