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Don't miss chance to improve lives, reduce inequality, strengthen community

In his column Sunday, “Fire Hose of COVID-19 money could drown state GOP,” David Collins highlights some important concerns about the political challenges that will come as the new COVID-19 relief funding begins to flow to states. These concerns are real. But I believe it is even more important to embrace the hope that the relief funding represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address problems that, while clearly exacerbated by the pandemic, have plagued American life long before the pandemic hit.

What if, instead of thinking of the American Rescue Plan as a fire hose of spending, we think of the relief bill as a long overdue irrigation system infusing life-giving water to parts of our community that have been parched for too long. A stream of water that can help build up families, improve access to health care, end hunger in the world’s richest country, reduce the impact of homelessness by enabling us to apply strategies we know work, and so much more. What if the American Rescue Plan is our chance to demonstrate that there are tools that can make a real difference in improving lives, reducing inequality, and building stronger communities?

Those of us, of all political persuasions, who long for everyone in our community to thrive are called to seize this moment. This is the time when we need to do everything in our power to use this stream of resources to bring about the changes that will make us a fairer, more life-giving, equitable and vibrant community.

For example, the relief funding includes enough emergency rental aid to help hundreds of our neighbors stabilize their housing and avoid the possibility of homelessness. But this funding must be paired with support at the local level, starting with a focus on access. For many, this assistance will flow easily. But some of our neighbors — especially those without internet access, or who work multiple jobs, or with limited English — will need support to file the needed applications. In the first week of Emergency Rental Assistance (called UniteCT), for example, six people came into Homeless Hospitality Center for help applying for assistance. One application was completed, but five others lacked one or more of the documents needed to apply.

We need advocacy to streamline requirements, but we also need to come alongside our neighbors to help them navigate the bureaucracies many of us take for granted. UniteCT is set up to allow people to seek help filing their applications. Government and not-for-profits can play a role. But so can faith communities, schools, neighborhood groups, landlords and friends.

This is a unique moment in history. The American Rescue Plan provides tools that could help us pivot toward greater equity, stronger families, better health, and improved access to basic human needs for everyone. I pray that we will join together to take up this challenge.

Cathy Zall is a pastor and the executive director of the New London Homeless Hospitality Center.



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