On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Our local economy depends on thousands of low-wage workers, but many lost their job when the coronavirus pandemic shut the region down, and they were unable to pay their rent. Rent protection has expired in Virginia, and it is set to expire in D.C. and Maryland.
To make matters worse, a lifeline ended for so many across the country as the additional $600 a week in federal unemployment ended last week for over 25 million Americans.
So, are we at the cusp of seeing a massive increase in evictions and homelessness, and food insecurity for low-wage workers?
This is a broadcast of the audio from our Kojo In Your Virtual Community event on July 21, 2020. Kojo will not be taking live calls or social media questions during this show.
Produced by Kurt Gardinier
- Radha Muthiah President and CEO, Capital Area Food Bank; @Radha_Muthiah;
- Dipti Pidikiti-Smith Deputy Director of Advocacy, Legal Services of Northern Virginia; @law_lsnv
- Tonia Wellons President & CEO, Greater Washington Community Foundation; @toniawellons
- William "Sandy" Darity Samuel DuBois Cook Distinguished Professor of Public Policy, Duke University; @SandyDarity
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Last week we held our fifth "Kojo in Your Virtual Community" event via Zoom, the topic this time low-wage workers in the pandemic. WAMU's Jeremy Bernfeld assisted me again by moderating and sharing the questions from the hundreds of attendees.
KOJO NNAMDIA quick programing note, our next "Kojo in Your Virtual Community" will be Monday August 24. Details on this event will soon be posted at kojoshow.org. So we'll look out for that. And a reminder, today's show is pre-taped. So we won't be taking calls or reading your questions or comments from social media during the broadcast.
KOJO NNAMDILater in the hour we'll be speaking with William "Sandy" Darity, a Samuel DuBois Cook Distinguished Professor of Public Policy at Duke University. But first our local economy depends on thousands of low-wage workers, but many lost their jobs when the pandemic shut the region down. Now rent protection has expired in Virginia and it is set up to expire soon in D.C. and Maryland. To make matters worse, a lifeline is ending for so many across the country as this is the last week that over 25 million Americans will receive the $600 a week in federal unemployment.
KOJO NNAMDIMany of these workers were struggling when they were employed. So how can they survive now and is anyone here to help? Welcome to "Low-Wage Workers: The Pandemic's Forgotten." I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Joining me now is Dipti Pidikiti-Smith, an Attorney and Deputy Director of Advocacy at Legal Services of Northern Virginia. Dipti, thank you for joining us.
DIPTI PIDIKITI-SMITHThank you, Kojo, for having me here tonight.
NNAMDIRadha Muthiah is the President and CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank. Radha, always a pleasure.
RADHA MUTHIAHA pleasure to be here, Kojo. Thank you.
NNAMDIAnd Tonia Wellons is the President and CEO of the Greater Washington Community Foundation. Tonia, thank you for joining us.
TONIA WELLONSThanks, Kojo. Happy to be here.
NNAMDIRadha, I'll start with you. You and the Capital Area Food Bank are and have certainly been here to help. What's the mission of your organization?
MUTHIAHThe Capital Area Food Bank is her here to support the food needs of all of those who are hungry or food insecure in our region. We focus particularly on healthy nutritious food so that we are supporting individuals address their hunger today.
NNAMDIHas the typical person or family that are experiencing food insecurity changed during the pandemic? Are you seeing people from the communities you typically do not see?
MUTHIAHYou know, before the pandemic just to set things in context here the Capital Area Food Bank provided food to about 400,000 food insecure individuals across our region. And our region is Washington D.C., Prince George's County, Montgomery County and Northern Virginia. Those individuals were often working two to three jobs just to be able to live in many cases paycheck to paycheck. But they needed just a little extra support, usually about two or three days' worth of food, and that's what they would come to the food bank for.
MUTHIAHNow during the pandemic, we are seeing those very same individuals who require a little bit more than those two to three days' worth of food a month. Many of them have lost their jobs require at least one of their jobs and require up to two weeks' worth of food from the food bank and its partners. So we do -- we are providing more food to that same group of individuals. But what's also happened is we see a rising number of what we call first time food insecure in our region.
MUTHIAHThey're coming from all over the region. It's not isolated to one area or another. But we are seeing a high proportion of individuals, who are people of color either African Americans or Latinos who are, you know, have been managing paycheck to paycheck prior, but now with the decrease in their income, they are in need of food from the food bank and its partners.
NNAMDIRadha, are you concerned whether you can keep up with the demand that's almost certainly going to increase in the coming days and weeks?
MUTHIAHIt's a great question, Kojo. You know, we are looking at this from multiple different perspectives. So we are tracking unemployment claims every week since the beginning of the pandemic. We are at about over 505,000 new unemployment claims since the beginning of the pandemic cumulatively. We look at that, because that's a great indicator for demand is going to -- how demand is going to increase for the food bank's food and services. The last thing I'll say on this topic for now is that typically before the pandemic, when we would purchase a truckload of food it would be in our warehouse within 8 to 10 days.
MUTHIAHNow it's taking more like 8 to 10 weeks before the food comes in. So we are trying to balance the supply chain challenges that, you know, we've all heard about over the last few months. And starting to stockpile more food in anticipation of the current increase in demand and also unfortunately for COVID round two in the fall and winter.
NNAMDIDipti, after several months of eviction protection put in place, because of the pandemic, eviction court cases are now moving forward in Virginia. Tell us about the situation in Northern Virginia.
PIDIKITI-SMITHThank you, Kojo. We did have a moratorium in place, which was lifted. And evictions resumed on June 29. The governor allowed location jurisdiction judges to enter an eviction moratorium. However, none of the judges exercised their discretion. The Attorney General's Office recently came out with an opinion indicating that the governor can give local jurisdictions power to enter their own moratoriums, and that has not occurred yet. And so starting end of June to projected up to September 7, that week right now we have about 9600 cases pending.
PIDIKITI-SMITHYou know, we, Legal Services of Northern Virginia provides services to the Northern Virginia area, Alexandria, Arlington, Prince William, Loudoun and Fairfax and Fredericksburg. Each of those jurisdictions are trying to have staggered dockets to adhere to social distancing. And we have worked with local jurisdictions to develop coordinated response systems to sort of flatten the eviction curve. You know, I think the company Stout has created an eviction tool to predict evictions. And as a result of the short come in income it's projected I believe about 268,000 evictions or households that can't pay rent. And that could lead to evictions.
NNAMDIJeremy, I think we do have a question about evictions and rent. So go ahead please.
JEREMY BERNFELDThis question is from Patty. She asks, "Should tenants let their landlord know that they may trouble paying rent? What are the advantages of telling their landlord or are there risks?"
PIDIKITI-SMITHYeah, you know, in this coordinated response, we are working with a number of landlords including the Northern Virginia Apartment Association, which has a portfolio of about 50,000 units. And they recommend that you contact your landlord and advise them of your situation. And we find that that's a good option as well. Many of the landlords are in a unique situation where they do want their rent paid and they don't have the option of rehousing, because many tenants are in a similar position. And so I think there's incentive, you know, with all parties to get assistance.
PIDIKITI-SMITHNow, you know, bell curve of life there are landlords that still want to proceed with eviction. And recently I heard that an apartment complex in Falls Church actually raised rent. So you are going to have these outliers, but I think it is a good practice to reach out to your landlord. However, I would encourage you to check with your local jurisdictions. Alexandria, Arlington, Prince William, Loudoun they all have programs in place to provide rental assistance generally up to three months, and the amounts vary. I think $600 for Alexandria, Capped at $1500 for Arlington.
PIDIKITI-SMITHThere's also the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program, which offers similar assistance up to three months as well. So there are a number of programs that can help tenants and landlords. So, you know, I encourage you to try to find that information. The Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance is a good place to find all of this information.
NNAMDITonia Wellons, what is the Greater Washington Community Foundation and how are you helping low-wage workers who have arguably suffered the most during this pandemic?
WELLONSThanks, Kojo. So the Greater Washington Community Foundation's mission is to really galvanize local philanthropy and invest locally. Our aim to really make sure that everyone in our region has access to good quality of life and has an opportunity to thrive. As part of, you know, the COVID-19 response efforts we've worked very closely with a broad range of local philanthropic organizations and individual donors to help to respond to the immense need that we've seen and experienced in our region. We've raised quite a number of resources since March 13 when many of has had to pivot to virtual environments.
WELLONSWe raised a joint COVID response fund of $8 million dollars, about $18 million in parallel funding. And then we've tracked $12 million in direct funding to non-profits through our partner philanthropic entities across the region. Kojo, I'm happy to share that community foundations across the country have raised upwards of a billion dollars in COVID response work. We've seen an increase in giving locally for the community foundation across all of our funds that would amount to about 68 percent of all giving for last year. So if there's a thin of a silver lining in all of this it really has been the way that our community has responded to the tragedy of COVID-19.
NNAMDITonia, why have low-wage workers suffered the most during this pandemic?
WELLONSSo we know COVID -- that one in five people in this region had already experienced food and housing insecurity within -- over a 12 month period pre-COVID. That low-wage workers were living further and further away from their place of employment, because of the rising cost of housing. We know that childcare costs continue to be one of the biggest barriers to economic mobility and that healthcare access is the least available to the lowest income people in our region.
WELLONSAnd it's all of these factors that I refer to as pre-existing inequities that have led to low wage workers, hourly workers, gig economy workers, restaurant and hotel workers, Uber drivers, home health aides, many of whom suffered a loss of livelihood through layoffs and others through double exposure to COVID-19. And so we are seeing the impact of that in terms of the rise in their food insecurity, the potential for eviction and loss of what was probably already unstable housing already. And they're just bearing the brunt of this crisis. And 9 times out of 10, Kojo, this is disproportionately impacting black and brown people in our region who are already working with thin margins.
NNAMDIYou and your organization have not forgotten clearly about low-wage workers. But have local officials, has Congress, has President Trump, forgotten in your view about low-wage workers in this country?
WELLONSSo I think for the initial phases, we've all stepped up. I'd like to really acknowledge the amazing local leadership that we have in our local elected officials from County Executive Alsobrooks to Mayor Bowser to a number of the local officials across the entire region, who are really trying to step in with providing based on science the instructions for how we ought to reopen and how we ought to proceed. I think the initial stimulus payments were -- it was a step in the right direction. The pandemic unemployment benefits, again, a step in the right direction.
WELLONSBut these things are short lived and what we are fearing for is the cliff when all of these things conclude at the same time, the mortgage moratorium, the end of pandemic unemployment insurance and the moratorium for evictions. And so we are just preparing now for the next phase as Radha mentioned.
NNAMDIJeremy, we have another question.
BERNFELDWe got a question from Dawn in Bethesda. "I know that Identity, an organization that works with Latino youth and their families in high poverty areas in Montgomery County. That Identity is working hard to support the essential worker community throughout Montgomery County. What's the most important issue that Identity and its peer organizations in the DMV should focus on right now?"
WELLONSSure. So I know Identity. They're actually one of the recipients of our COVID-19 response grant funding. And one of the issues that they're working on is really trying to stay connected to disconnected youth. So youth, who were already not connected to education or employment opportunities to make sure that they are on a path for productivity.
WELLONSThe other -- an important body of work that Identity and organizations like CASA, the Latin American Youth Center, Bread for the City have taken on are making sure that excluded workers or workers who -- restaurant workers for example or gig economy workers, who were not eligible for stimulus resources or for unemployment benefits for whatever reason have access to cash and food. That's the important work that we are calling on our non-profits, because they have like pivoted in this direction that we need continue to support them in doing.
NNAMDIRadha, care to respond to the same question?
MUTHIAHYeah, absolutely. You know, I think there are a few key things that are important here. The first one is as, you know, Tonia mentioned, the generosity of our community. And they've been able many of the NGOs in the community to continue their work. As we continue it and we move on to the next phase, I think we need to be ensured that we well-coordinated and aligned. That's really important. And that starts either from sort of the policy levels, whether that's in a federal state or local to the NGO community, as well as, to the private sector and community here, there's a lot that we can do together. But doing it in alignment is very important.
MUTHIAHI think the second thing we have to address here is those who -- and Tonia mentioned some of the good programs from a federal and state perspective that are in place. But in our region there are quite a few undocumented workers, who don't qualify for SNAP, who don't qualify for WIC, who don't qualify for a whole host of, you know, the unemployment insurance bonus that we've been talking about, etcetera. So for those individuals and by the way there's an increasing number of undocumented individuals, who are working in industries that are directly affected by COVID.
MUTHIAHSo when you look at hospitality, you look at transportation, you look at tourism, there's a high number and percentage of undocumented workers. So for them we need to think about alternative ways of being able to provide support services. So for us at the food bank, we're thinking about different ways where they don't have to come and aggregate at more official sites or buildings if you will, but more direct distribution in their neighborhoods closer to them. That's very important.
MUTHIAHSchools were a very important place for us to provide distributions of food to those who are documented as well as undocumented. Now as we're hearing more schools have decided to go online for the fall and winter, we are pivoting to think about different ways in which we can provide, you know, weekly monthly nutrition so that this population of undocumented workers in addition to those who are documented can continue to receive food.
MUTHIAHWithout this, I worry that this gap that has already been wide in the inequities, which we've all been speaking about will actually be exacerbated and it will be much much more challenging place to return from if you will when we think about the rebuilding.
NNAMDIJeremy, we have a question about housing?
BERNFELDRyan from Vienna asks, "What could the long term effects on both renters and landlords be in this region if the $100 billion in rental assistance from the HEROES Act is not passed soon or if that amount is greatly reduced?"
PIDIKITI-SMITHIt's going to be a big impact. You know, in our coordinated response part of the conversation is how to provide assistance past three months, how to provide assistance after unemployment insurance expires and how to provide assistance once virtual learning and distance learning begins and parents have to stay at home and still can't go to work, because they have to take care of their children. And, you know, we are looking at a minimum two year sort of long term planning. And in addition, you know, the states have to balance their budget and it's going to require more federal intervention. Since that's not happening, the coordinated response teams are looking at providing outreach on the front and working with landlords directly to enter into repayment plans.
PIDIKITI-SMITHWe're also working with the Sheriff's offices on the back end to ensure that tenants are not being evicted, and again we are working with the landlords and tenants, you know, as much as possible. So it's sort of a case by case. Literally our office in every jurisdiction is looking at every RIT that is filed to make sure nobody is evicted.
NNAMDIA recent report by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition concluded that fulltime minimum wage workers cannot afford a two bedroom rental anywhere in the U.S. and cannot afford a one bedroom rental in 95 percent of U.S. counties. What's your reaction to that and how do you stay positive and hopeful during this kind of difficult time?
PIDIKITI-SMITHThis rental affordable housing crisis existed pre-COVID. And I think as everyone is saying it's just COVID exacerbating the situation. You know, as a non-profit provider we always are looking for financial resources, because unfortunately that is a big piece of the puzzle. And since we don't have that, as everyone said we're relying on local jurisdictions to help out, pro bono attorneys and volunteers to introject and work with landlords to keep people housed.
PIDIKITI-SMITHYou know, this is sort of a unique situation which affords, you know, humanity and empathy. And a lot of the jurisdictions now do have space available if there is an eviction. For example, we are assisting individuals whose families have tested positive for COVID and are facing evictions. And the local jurisdictions have -- for example, Fairfax does have hotels where they're isolating families and that can stay in the premises, you know, for two weeks, and then they can move to a more stable location.
NNAMDIJeremy, we have a question.
BERNFELDZach in Trinidad asks, "What is the D.C. government's plan to address the approaching crisis of a significant loss of income with the CARES Act extension expiring?"
WELLONSI think that all of our jurisdictions in the region are really thinking through how to move through the phased approaches to reopening in a way that puts safety and the science first. And so there is no -- but there's no real clear path to doing except carefully. And to really making sure that to the extent that we can, you know, return to work or return to school in way that keeps families safe is the path that we're pursuing.
MUTHIAHAnd I think if I could just add to that, Kojo. We have heard a little bit from the District as well as Montgomery County and Prince George's County in the sense that they anticipate August to when, you know, most of these benefits -- if I call them benefits, you know, ending July 31. There's a concern that August will hit a peak in terms of the need for all of these different social services. We've been hearing from those who call into our hunger lifeline saying they're worried about potential eviction at the end of the month. And they're preparing to understand where they can go for food, because they need to, you know, reallocate funding towards rent and things like that.
MUTHIAHBut from these different local county governments they are trying to factor in how much more food might be required and so we're working collaboratively with them through procurement contracts in some cases to acquire enough food, and in other cases to align our distribution of food with the school breakfast and lunch distributions as well. So I know there is a lot of forethought if you will from these few counties to anticipate what's coming next after the stimulus as schools start online to think about how we can ensure that we're providing adequate nourishment. And I suspect that's occurring across other social safety areas as well.
NNAMDIAt the end of April we did a segment on people struggling to pay rent. And we had on Ikram Meskaoui, a wife and mother of two, a cafeteria worker who lost her job when the pandemic began. She could not afford her rent at the apartment building in Alexandria, where she's been living since 2008. Here she is on her thoughts on her landlord.
IKRAM MESKAOUIThey don't care about us or our safety. So whatever the safety net I have right now it even is not enough to our payment expenses. And I don't know how long this pandemic is going to last for. So I cannot pay my rent. I mean, everybody is living in anxiety right now.
NNAMDIDipti, is Ikram's story familiar to the tenants you've been helping?
PIDIKITI-SMITHYeah, no, it is a common story. And I might even know the building she's talking about. You know, it's very concerning, because in Virginia unless you are -- if you're not covered by the CARES Act, you may receive a notice saying that you're late for rent and that eviction proceedings may begin. And these are standard forms that the management office uses. And I think just seeing those words, you know, worry individuals. And so a part of what we're doing is trying to conduct outreach. We just did one in Alexandria in Southern Towers by Zoom to provide information to individuals providing a timeline. At a recent return docket, so this is the first hearing that tenants are appearing in court, we along with advocates from Southern Towers are providing information so tenants can continue their cases.
PIDIKITI-SMITHVirginia passed a law that allows a 60 day continuance if you lost income due to COVID. You would need to fill out an affidavit. And we have all that information outside the court house prior to entry. While it's scary to get the document, which says you have five days to pay the rent, the landlord can't lock you out in five days. And I think at that point just getting the information is helpful to start the resolution process. And then just getting sort of these -- this information about rental assistance and other forms of assistance will be useful.
NNAMDII should mention that we reached out to Ikram Meskaoui to see how she's doing, but we were unable to get in touch with her. We simply hope she's doing well. Jeremy, you have a question for all of our panelists.
BERNFELDThis question if from Kate in Alexandria. How are your organizations and others in the area supporting working mothers, who still have the majority of childcare responsibilities? How can we as a society ensure woman remain in the workforce throughout the pandemic and the related school and daycare closings?
NNAMDILet's start with you, Radha.
MUTHIAHSure. So, we have had to pivot in a number of different ways. And one way that supports the seniors as well working mothers is homebound deliveries. So, we know that there are individuals, who are unable whether they're got children and they want to minimize exposure, you know, they're unable to leave their homes. And so this is something we started with actually various partnerships, with ride-share providers and with the D.C. Taxi Cab Association to be able to deliver boxes of food to those who are homebound for one reason or another.
NNAMDICare to respond, Dipti?
PIDIKITI-SMITHSo, we've moved a lot of our cases to telephone systems. So, if individuals are calling in, we can provide telephone advice. You know, a lot of our advocacy involves in-court advocacy, and we've been a strong proponent in the state for remote hearings, so parents can be at their homes and appear in court. You know, we have a large family law practice, and we assist victims of domestic violence. And, you know, during these times, victims may be isolated in their homes with the abuser. And so finding shelter and having these individuals appear remotely to get their protective orders is important.
PIDIKITI-SMITHIn the housing context, you know, a lot of our clients may be in neighborhoods that are impacted by COVID. And so we are asking courts to implement remote hearings. Many of the return dockets -- so this is the initial first hearings -- courts are allowing tenants to call in. And now we are encouraging courts, even for the trial dates, to set up web act and other remote hearings so the tenants don't have to appear in court, and they can appear from home.
NNAMDIDipti, if more assistance is not offered to people who lost their job because of the pandemic and eventually get evicted, what's the plan for these people? Where will they go? Who will help them?
PIDIKITI-SMITHIt's a very good question. I wake up asking that question and go to sleep asking that question. You know, worst case scenario, someone is evicted today, you know, and I think it's looking to the landlords to determine what are their needs. The needs from small landlords to big landlords are different. You know, their revenue streams are different. Some landlords prefer tax credits. Some landlords require utility assistance. And I think the solutions are creating sort of an array of options for the landlords to support them and to see what is the bottom line that they need so that we can keep people housed.
PIDIKITI-SMITHYou know, the second part of this equation, if somebody is evicted, what does re-housing look like? Because there's not many people that are in a situation they can pay rent. And, you know, the general sort of pre-COVID, landlords may pull a credit report. They may look to see if there were past evictions. You know, unfortunately, that's not a good guide during these times.
PIDIKITI-SMITHAnd, you know, there have been discussions of how to change those practices going forward, so that we can, you know, develop a partnership between small and large landlords that allows potentially transferring of tenants or other solutions that stabilizes families. But at the same time still, you know, allows landlords to keep their bottom line, so they don't default, you know, into foreclosure, for example.
NNAMDIJeremy, we have another question.
BERNFELDThis question comes from Nichole in Woodbridge. How are we, as a community, dealing with the fact that some children get their only meals at school?
MUTHIAHYeah, it's a very real concern, and we're seeing, you know, a greater degree of childhood food insecurity through this pandemic, as well. So, what we're trying to do here is trying to bundle as many different types of food offerings with that one point of contact at the school when the child or the parent goes to pick up that breakfast meal or lunch meal.
MUTHIAHAs your listeners may know, you know, in the past, of course, pre-pandemic, those meals would be offered seated in the cafeteria, and it's usually a hot meal. But now, since the pandemic has started, those are to-go kind of room-temperature meals. And so what food banks and partners of the food bank are doing are providing fresh produce, bagged produce, you know, in the summer. Shelf-stable items in boxes, things like that, at that point, so that when a parent and the child comes out to get the child's breakfast or lunch meal for the day, they can also pick up food that would be enough for the child's dinner. And it would also be enough for others within the family.
NNAMDISame question to you, Tonia Wellons.
WELLONSSo, I think as we look to the future, Kojo, we're just really going to have to think about how we think about all of the social protections that families across this region will need. In the immediate, next few months, of course, we're going to have to do more through partnerships with local government and with the private sector to make sure that families are less -- that food security is not one of their major issues, and that worrying about whether or not they will be displaced or evicted from their housing, we're going to have to do it through advocacy and through the powers of the state and local level, do as much as we can to offer these social protections.
WELLONSBut my hope, you know, sort of looking further out into the future, is that families will not have to worry about piecing together a life here in this region. You know, there's so much struggle and anxiety and there's so many challenges around mental health and just worrying about the basics. And I hope that as we, again, re-envision what a post-COVID life is like, it's a place where housing is basically a universal right, like access to healthcare. These are things that are not -- they're not farfetched. These are things that we have an opportunity to recreate as we're looking to the future.
NNAMDIRadha Muthiah, where were you getting food for distribution before the pandemic, and where and how are you getting it now?
MUTHIAHSo, about two-thirds of our food prior to the pandemic was donated to us. So, retailers, all of your -- you know, the Giants, Safeways, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Costco, etcetera, Amazon. They all would donate food to us, and that was about two-thirds of our food supply. Another 20 percent was U.S. government food from USDA that targeted to specific individuals. And the remainder, kind of under 20 percent, we would purchase.
MUTHIAHThat equation has been turned on its head, if you will, during the pandemic. We are now purchasing more like two-thirds of what we are providing, given that the donations have declined. And recently, the food from USDA has increased. There is a new program that just started towards the end of May called the -- it's called CFAP, the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. And that is both to support those who are in need of food and farmers in our country.
MUTHIAHSo, it basically purchases food from farmers, and then through distributors, gets distributed to food banks. So, that has been a big source of food, especially good healthy produce, fruits and vegetables, dairy and protein. We've been lucky to get that from the middle of May, and we're hopeful that that will continue for a few months to come.
NNAMDIAre you nevertheless worried about the Capital Area Food Bank running out of money or food?
MUTHIAHI'm always worried about this, (laugh) given the number -- given the increasing rate of food insecurity. You know, I worry more about the timing of our receipt of food given the supply chain complications, as opposed to us running out of food.
MUTHIAHTonia mentioned this earlier, you know, our community is very generous in being able to provide basic services and to support groups like the food bank and others during this particular time. So, you know, the part that worries me is it's just -- this isn't a few months' scenario or phenomenon. We know this could go on for another year. So, the consistency of support will be important.
MUTHIAHAnd we're working with many of our private sector partners. Marriott is a great example. We've had to acquire more warehouse facility as we look at stockpile food for the fall and the winter. And Marriott stepped up and said, you know, we've got our big convention hotels that aren't being used right now. We will give you that space so that you can use that for warehousing and stockpiling your food. Amazon has stepped up to help us with our supply chain and ensure that we, you know, are being as efficient as possible.
MUTHIAHSo, there are many in our community, whether it's through financial resources, through in kind support, through storage space, etcetera. All of that is very welcome, very needed and required so that we can continue to meet the need. And, as Tonia mentioned earlier, you know, as we think about rebuilding, we need to rebuilt in a much more equitable way. And I think this pandemic has just highlighted a spotlight on the inequities in our region. And so we have an opportunity here, as we emerge from this, to just rebuild much stronger and much better.
NNAMDIJeremy, we have a question?
BERNFELDThis question is from Lee who's with Variety D.C., which is a local children's charity. Lee asks, as a local nonprofit, are direct one-time emergency grants to families a good use of limited funds?
WELLONSAbsolutely. I think now is the time where we have to look at ways of providing support to families in a wide variety of ways. I'm a huge supporter of cash transfers alongside food assistance and other types of assistance. Families need the ability to make some decisions about what their household needs. And sometimes we can't determine that by prescribing what the gift or what the offering looks like. Cash gifts, cash transfers are absolutely an appropriate way of servicing families in our region.
NNAMDIDipti, how big a problem is the fact that many of the tenants in northern Virginia are sick with COVID-19 and do not have health insurance? Are authorities really evicting people who have the virus?
PIDIKITI-SMITHThe cases that we've seen, no, there have been no evictions. You know, initially, when we were forming the coordinated response, it was wonderful when the sheriff's offices joined our team, because they're sort of -- they're the final step before an eviction occurs. And, in that conversation, we asked the sheriff's office if they would implement guidelines as to who they would evict during the pandemic.
PIDIKITI-SMITHSo, for example, if a household member has tested positive or has a temperature of more than 100.4, you now, looking at those factors, is this -- you know, would that be enough for you to stop an eviction? And I believe, recently, there have been sheriff's offices that didn't go through with evictions for COVID-related safety reasons. And as I mentioned, many of the local jurisdictions do have alternate housing available for families that are in this situation, so they can socially distance, and that there is a place for them to go.
NNAMDIWell, landlords, many of them are hurting, too. How important is it to work with landlords during this time? Are most willing to work with tenants, Dipti?
PIDIKITI-SMITHIt is a key part of the solution and, as I mentioned, the coordinated response, we do have a number of landlord representatives, including for-profit and nonprofit providers. And we are exploring ways to provide options from small landlords to large landlords. And, you know, I mentioned tax incentives, utility assistance in addition to rental assistance. Each individual landlord has their own needs, so I think it's important to reach out and have that initial communication so we understand their needs, as well.
PIDIKITI-SMITHYou know, as I mentioned, looking at their revenues and their bottom line, it just varies, depending on the landlord. And I think having these options available will be important. You know, somebody had mentioned the Heroes Act. So, when you are thinking about future funding, it's important to recognize this other need and include that as part of the solution.
WELLONSKojo, may I mentioned that we've had landlords to also set up funds with us at the community foundation, both with the intention of supporting some of their impacted residents or tenants, both at the individual level and at the commercial level. And so I think Dipti is right. There are many landlords who are doing their best to do the right thing. I just wanted to acknowledge that all are impacted. Low-wage workers, of course, are impacted differently, but there are quite a number of landlords and other private sector actors who are doing their best to support the needs of people who need charitable contributions.
NNAMDII'd like to thank you, Tonia Wellons, the president and CEO of the Greater Washington Community Foundation. Thank you for joining us.
WELLONSMy pleasure. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIRadha Muthiah is the president and CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank. Radha, thank you for joining us.
MUTHIAHThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIDipti Pidikiti-Smith is an attorney and the deputy director of advocacy at Legal Services of Northern Virginia. Dipti, thank you for joining us.
PIDIKITI-SMITHThank you for having me.
NNAMDIWe don't have too much time with tonight's special guest, so let's get right to it. Joining us now is William "Sandy" Darity, the Samuel DuBois Cook Distinguished Professor of Public Policy, African and African-American studies and economics at Duke University. He's the author, with A. Kirsten Mullen, of "From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century." He joins us from his home in Durham, North Carolina. Sandy Darity, thank you so much for joining us.
WILLIAM "SANDY" DARITYThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAccording to a new study by the American's for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies, American billionaires saw their fortunes grow an average of 42 billion during each week of the coronavirus pandemic. How is it that the billionaires are profiting during the pandemic while low-wage workers are suffering?
DARITYI think it's because we don't have a structure of support for low-wage workers or for any workers in our economy that guarantees them against the problems that might occur -- they might incur when there's substantial downturn in the performance of the economy. Plus, the ways in which the congressional allocation funds to address the coronavirus crisis have been allocated has actually enriched those at the top end of the distribution to the disadvantage of those at the bottom.
NNAMDIYou're a longtime advocate of the federal jobs guarantee. What is it, and how could a program like that be an answer to today's problems?
DARITYThe federal jobs guarantee is an assurance of employment for all American adults. It would involve the provision of an opportunity to work in the public sector for every American adult at non-poverty wages, coupled with the benefits package that would be similar to the benefits package that's made available to all federal civil servants.
DARITYIn effect, what we would do is eliminate working poverty by assuring that everyone would have an opportunity to take employment with the public sector under a public service operation that would provide a wide range of -- provide for a wide range of tasks, including child and elder care, including solarization of the economy, including reconstruction and maintenance of schools and including building bridges, maintaining highways and roadways throughout the country. So, we would address both the physical and the human infrastructure with this type of employment.
NNAMDIWhat are bad jobs, and how would a federal jobs guarantee eliminate them?
DARITYSo, bad jobs are those that have low pay, low or no benefits, an excessive lack of safety at the workplace. A federal jobs guarantee could eliminate those, as long as the federal government was offering jobs at a decent wage without adequate benefits that do not involve dangers to the workers. Because if you had a federal jobs guarantee in place, workers would not take job with a private sector that did not offer them at least the same conditions that are provided in the public sector.
DARITYIn addition, if we plunge into a coronavirus crisis, if we had had a federal jobs guarantee in place, we already would have an existing national payroll that we could expand or extend to additional workers who might lose their jobs in the current moment. We would not have a situation where we would have to make sporadic payments to individuals to support their income or risk the situation of not providing them with any payments or any supports, whatsoever. And the fact that we're in the midst of a crisis does not mean that we could not institute just such a program to help support our population as we move forward in these difficult times.
NNAMDIWhat would a federal program like the federal jobs program cost, and do you think ideas like that or like universal-based incomes could ever gain enough traction politically and become law?
DARITYWell, it's quite interesting that there has not been a real push on the part of congressional leaders to establish a federal jobs guarantee. Out of all of the programs that people tend to view as being bold and sometimes radical, the one that receives the best polling support is the federal jobs guarantee. In fact, one of the most recent polls I've seen indicates that about 70 percent of Americans are in favor of the federal government providing employment for everyone who is in need of work and unable to find it. And I think this is extraordinary. I have no idea why our elected officials don't pursue establishing a federal jobs guarantee. There's tremendous political support for it.
DARITYIn terms of the expenses associated with the federal jobs guarantee, we've estimated that if upwards of 15 million people were put to work, which is the largest number of people who were unemployed during the Great Recession, if upwards of 15 million people were put to work at a cost to the government of approximately $50,000, that would run into the vicinity of $750 billion to $1 trillion per annum. And that's not out of the range of the fact that the federal government just paid close to $3 trillion to address the coronavirus crisis. And, as you pointed out, with unequal -- vastly unequal distributional consequences.
NNAMDIYou were the lead author of a recent Duke University study titled "A Subaltern Middle Class: The Case of the Missing 'Black Bourgeoisie' in America." Well, when E. Franklin Frazier was writing, there certainly did seem to be a black bourgeoisie. What happened to the black middle class in America?
DARITYWell, actually, when E. Franklin Frazier was writing, one of the central points of his book was that the black middle class was extremely fragile and vulnerable. It did not have adequate resources, and it did not have sufficient resources to protect itself from the same kinds of exigencies that the white middle class would be free of.
DARITYAnd what we argue in this paper is that the real critical factor in dictating the vulnerability of the black middle class is the lack of wealth. So, I wanted to distinguish wealth from income, where wealth is the difference between what you own and what you owe or the net value of your property. And this is quite different from your income, which is primarily dictated by your flow of earnings.
DARITYIf you have adequate wealth, you can lose income and still maintain a relatively high degree of economic security. But you can't do it the other way around. You can't lose wealth and substitute income for it. And so what we demonstrate in this paper is that the wealth position of black Americans is so precarious and so low that it's really difficult to talk about any kind of substantial black middle class. One illustration at the extreme is the fact that 25 percent of white American households have a net worth in excess of $1 million. It is only 4 percent of black American households.
NNAMDIThis pandemic has brought to light a host of inequalities that actually existed prior to this crisis. What are they and how has the pandemic exacerbated them?
DARITYWell, if we think about employment specific -- and I'm just truly impressed with the type of work that Tonia, Radha and Dipti are doing in the midst of this very, very difficult time. But if we think about employment alone, we have a situation in which individuals who are in jobs that are deemed essential -- particularly black workers -- are in jobs that are deemed essential whereas my colleague Rhonda Sharp says, they themselves are not necessarily deemed essential, are continuing to work in relatively low wage employment and are at high risk of exposure to the coronavirus. Higher risk than folks who are not in those types of jobs. So, that's one category of black workers.
DARITYThe other category of black workers are those who are disproportionately or were disproportionately in personal service, personal care employments that are not viewed as essential. And so, as a consequence, they are out of work. So, it's a peculiar kind of dilemma. Either you continue to work and risk much greater exposure to COVID-19, or you lose your job altogether and consequently lose whatever stream of income you have access to. And so that's why I think if we had a federal jobs guarantee in place, we could disrupt that dilemma altogether.
NNAMDIAnd finally, earlier this year, you released "From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century" where you make the case for economic reparations for people like yourself, U.S. descendants of slavery. Why did you write this book, and why do you think reparations are, in fact, necessary?
DARITYWe wrote this book because there is a community of black Americans who are descendants of individuals who were formerly enslaved. And at the end of the Civil War, those formerly enslaved persons did not receive the 40-acre land grabs that they were promised. They received no restitution.
DARITYAt the same time, many, many white Americans were given 160-acre land grabs in the Western part of the United States in territory that had been taken from the Native American population. And these 160-acre land grabs constituted the foundation for the wealth that is possessed by many, many white Americans today. Trina Williams has estimated that anywhere from 45 to 90 million white Americans living today are beneficiaries of those 160-acre land grabs under the dictates of the Homestead Act.
DARITYSo, while white Americans were getting substantial land allocations -- we could call them handouts, if you like -- black Americans who had just emerged from enslavement received absolutely nothing. That's the basis for this enormous racial wealth gap that we observe today, which is the rationale that we have for saying reparations should be paid.
NNAMDIWilliam "Sandy" Darity is the Samuel DuBois Cook Distinguished Professor of public policy, African and African-American studies and economics at Duke University. He is the author, with Kirsten Mullen, of "From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century." He joins us from his home in Durham, North Carolina. But it is my understanding, Sandy, that when you were in Washington, D.C. in the middle 1980s, rumor has it that you used to listen to a certain guy with a strange-sounding name on the radio here.
DARITYAbsolutely. In the old days, on WHUR, I used to listen to Kojo Nnamdi. (laugh)
NNAMDIYeah, you got me. You got me. Sandy, thank you so very much for joining us.
DARITYThank you for having me.
NNAMDIWe've heard a lot tonight about the struggles of low-wage workers. Thank you all for showing up and participating. We hope you'll continue to engage with us on this topic via our social media channels. Our next virtual town hall will be Monday, August 24th, so please watch for details on that. Check back for more information at kojoshow.org.
NNAMDIBefore we go, we'd like to say thank you to our wonderful engineers, the Kojo Show team, especially Ingalisa Schrobsdorff and Kurt Gardinier, (unintelligible) and marketing and events. And to the rest of our colleagues at WAMU for taking this show on the virtual road. We're especially grateful to WAMU's general manager JJ Yore, as well as Monna Kashfi and Diane Hockenberry for their support. And finally, thank you all for joining us. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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