Opinion

Congressional Democrats must hold firm on the recovery bill

The U.S. Capitol is seen from D St. N.E., on Wednesday, October 6, 2021.
Greg Nash

As a State Representative in Georgia, I know well the struggles that low-income Americans face. Despite our withdrawal from Afghanistan earlier this year, the Pentagon budget has continued to climb — alongside excuses by so-called moderates to avoid spending that would improve the lives of everyday Americans, like my constituents in Georgia. With the federal eviction moratorium on ice and mass evictions on the horizon, our next election could look a lot different. 

Congress has the power to mitigate an impending disaster, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promising a vote on the $3.5 trillion dollar recovery bill, which could include, “at least $45 billion for the national Housing Trust Fund,” according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. This funding would be life changing for Georgians.

Nearly one-quarter of all Georgians are extremely low income, meaning a family of four makes less than $25,750 a year. When my constituents are in survival mode trying to provide for their families, taking time off from work to vote or spending extra cash to travel to remote polling locations gets put on the back burner. Black women, who arguably delivered Georgia to Biden in the 2020 elections, are also disproportionately affected by evictions — by as much as 150 percent. 

There just aren’t enough shelters, especially in COVID times, to support a housing crisis like the one we will have on our hands if Congress doesn’t take action. And it affects us all. According to a new UCLA study, evictions may accelerate COVID-19 transmission, leading to hundreds of thousands of additional, preventable cases and thousands more deaths.

We have the money to invest in our communities, but we are sinking our resources into other endeavors. Last month, all Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee, save for Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), voted to increase the Pentagon budget by nearly $25 billion, an amount larger than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual budget. An amendment to the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act which would have rescinded those funds failed just last week. This leaves us with a Pentagon budget larger than the budgets of the Departments of State, Justice, Education, Transportation, Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency combined.

Our nation wastes massive amounts of money on military contractors and excess Pentagon spending and our legislators have become complicit. The Pentagon has never passed an audit and we do not know where much of our tax dollars even go. How can we justify allocating over half of our nation’s discretionary budget for weapons and war when we cannot ensure that everyone has a roof over their heads and food on the table? 

Not to mention that public dollars invested in clean energy, health care, and education create significantly more jobs — in some cases as many as double the jobs — in our local economies when compared to investing an equivalent amount in the military sector. If we could instead invest our hard-earned tax dollars in jobs and housing programs, we could build resilient communities who could participate in our democratic institutions with far more ease.

Right now we have two options: kick our nation’s most vulnerable people while they are down or stop the devastating cycle of systemic injustice by bolstering our social and economic programs. This gap in funding only leads to snowballing unemployment and homelessness, and this neglect becomes systemic tyranny when coupled with the deterioration of voting rights.

We can make bold steps toward a just recovery, but only if our Members of Congress are brave enough to tackle anything that stands in their way: including the military-industrial complex. Democrats in Congress must hold the line on the $3.5 trillion dollar recovery package — it is the least we can do to bounce back from the devastation from COVID-19, to save our people from losing their homes, and to save our democracy. 

We can — and must — do better. Democrats in Congress need to be bigger, bolder, and stronger. If we want to save democracy, we have to be willing to take decisive action. There is no more time to talk about what’s wrong, let’s roll up our sleeves and take it to the next level.

Kim Schofield is a member of the Georgia House of Representatives representing the 60th district.