Our Legislators Need to Stop Hiding Behind Masks of Denial

The recent “Rally in the Valley” at a military surplus store in Staunton featured multiple elected officials, mostly sans mask, rebuffing social distancing and gathering guidelines to spread germs, I mean, meet with like-minded constituents. Congressman Ben Cline, Delegate John Avoli, and Ronnie Campbell, a candidate for Delegate, were all present and encouraged this irresponsible behavior. As a citizen of the Valley, it was disheartening to watch folks flout mask protocol while they celebrated Trump’s refusal to concede an election he lost. 

Instead of spreading germs and election fraud conspiracy theories, our representatives need to focus on helping Virginians during this pandemic. The reality for many Virginians right now is grim, and it will not improve if our lawmakers don’t start prioritizing the very real problems we face. 

Worse than not wearing masks, our legislators aren’t showing up for those they’ve sworn to support. People can’t survive, much less discourage the spread of COVID-19, when they don’t have a job, a roof over their head, or some semblance of healthcare.

People losing their jobs and facing eviction is a public health crisis that not only puts the lives of Virginians directly at risk but will also have ripple effects through our communities, hospitals, and schools.  To survive, we need relief measures around housing, real support for essential workers,  and universal access to healthcare.

Virginians Need Relief Measures to Ensure They Can Remain In Their Homes

Over 260,000 households are at risk for eviction across the Commonwealth. Virginia’s eviction moratorium is in effect through Dec. 31, but it’s not fail-proof. The moratorium is not automatic, it does not forgive rent, and it will not help tenants get back in their homes if they have already been evicted. Once the new year begins, landlords will be allowed to proceed with an eviction if the tenant is denied aid, the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief program runs out of money, or it takes the state longer than 14 days to make a payment. COVID-19 has exacerbated underlying, systemic injustices and inequalities. 

Everyone deserves a safe, warm place to sleep, and a pandemic is not the time to kick people out of their homes. We need to demand that lawmakers prioritize taking care of our communities by providing rent and mortgage forgiveness, pushing for income equality, and passing affordable housing legislation.

Virginia’s Essential Workers Deserve More Than Lip-Service

There are 760,000 frontline workers in essential jobs that put them in contact with the public. These jobs are typically low-wage and overrepresented by women, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and immigrant workers. Essential workers, from bus-drivers and nursing aids to grocery and retail workers and janitors, don’t have the luxury of working from home. They rely on employers, the general public, and our legislators to help protect their health and provide fair compensation for the risks they are taking on. 

We need to stand up for their rights to be respected, protected, and paid a livable wage. We can take care of the people who take care of the rest of us by supporting legislation that will provide proper personal protective equipment, paid sick leave, and hazard pay.

People Can’t Go Without Healthcare During the Pandemic

The devastating loss of jobs during the pandemic resulted in tens of thousands of Virginians without access to health insurance. Without insurance, people are less likely to seek testing for COVID-19,resulting in worse health outcomes for patients and putting the community at greater risk for coronavirus infection.  The diagnosis and treatment of serious illness unrelated to COVID-19 is also less likely, leading to increased morbidity and mortality, as well as potential bankruptcy due to ludicrously high healthcare costs. 

We need to push for legislation that establishes the basic human right to free or affordable healthcare that is not tied to employment. We can create a system that puts patients in the driver’s seat. No one should forgo treatment because they cannot afford it.

Not wearing a mask is making a statement that you don’t care about your own health or the health of others. The decision by our lawmakers to not address the needs of their communities is also a statement. But a message of inhumanity and disregard for our fellow human beings is not the statement that we need to make right now. Or ever. For a party that harps on family values and a ‘pro-life’ stance, deliberately putting others at risk for a deadly virus with unknown long-term effects is not a good look. Neither is neglecting to pursue legislation that can help Virginians survive.

Our legislators are killing us through their willful neglect. The House of Representatives just adjourned for Thanksgiving without passing a much-needed stimulus bill. As hospitalizations for COVID-19 are skyrocketing, the Governor should take measures to keep people at home. They need to step up and do their duty now.  Put on a d-n mask, step up, and pass legislation to keep Virginians in their homes, take care of our essential workers, and provide healthcare. It’s what we pay them for.

If you or someone you know needs help, the Virginia Poverty Law Center offers free helplines. 

• ENROLL Virginia! Helpline: (888) 392-5132

• Eviction Helpline: 833-NOEVICT (833-663-8428)

• Predatory Loan Helpline: (866) 830-4501• Senior Legal Helpline: (844) 802-5910

Check out our other stellar blog posts:

Not All Superheros Wear Capes, But All Voters are Superheroes

Coronavirus Double Whammy: Death and Economic Inequality for Virginia’s Communities of Color

The Nightmare Inside Virginia’s Prisons