To the editor:

This week, the Census Bureau released the 2019 poverty and hardship data for Maine. While 2019 saw a slight reduction in official poverty rates for our state (10.9% of Mainers experiencing poverty in 2019, compared to 11.6% for 2018), we are in a completely different world now. More recent data reflect our reality: Mainers are suffering from a pandemic and a recession that show no signs of abating soon, and the need for relief from Washington is urgent.

As a country, we’ve allowed inequality to grow for generations. Now we are all paying the price. Even in 2019, the stage was set for the coronavirus to push people from housing insecurity to homelessness, from poor nutrition to hunger, and from worrying about affording a doctor’s visit to dying from COVID-19 because of existing health problems.

When enhanced federal unemployment benefits ended at the end of July, applications for food assistance in Maine increased by 40% in the first week of August. Applications for cash assistance through TANF tripled. Since the beginning of August, MaineHousing has received three times the number of rental relief applications than were filed in July, and in August, 42% of Mainers reported they were likely to be evicted or foreclosed upon in the next two months. The need in Maine is great and growing, and we need our leaders in Washington to respond.

The Senate’s refusal to negotiate or vote on a bill that is comprehensive enough to meet the needs of Mainers is reprehensible and out of touch with the experiences of everyday people. There is no substitute for real action. We need Senate Republicans to put politics aside and pass a strong relief bill that includes support for everyone in Maine, including immigrants who were left out of previous coronavirus relief.

Robyn Merrill, Maine Equal Justice