In a column published today in The Appeal, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) called for the creation of a civilian Emergency First Responders Corps tasked with performing affirmative outreach, knocking on doors, using mobile resource stations, and striving to reach people who are the most vulnerable amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Cash benefits through legislation like the Automatic BOOST to Communities Act, or ABC Act, are a critical first step toward creating stability, but more is needed in the face of historic unemployment, especially given that many people were struggling before the pandemic. Our society’s most vulnerable are now the most likely victims of the coronavirus: the elderly, the mentally ill, the houseless, the working class, and those living with disabilities. That’s why the ABC Act also calls for an Emergency First Responders Corps that would serve as a civilian lifeline to these populations, by conducting wellness checks and assisting the elderly and disabled.
“It is our duty to reach out to people at highest risk during this pandemic to ensure they have what they need,” said Representative Tlaib. “That means making direct contact. The most vulnerable people may not have reliable access to the internet or a phone or even know who to call for assistance.”
“This kind of outreach will be especially critical in rural communities, where people may get sick and not be anywhere close to help. It’s also imperative amid concerns that some people in rural areas may not receive their stimulus checks or debit cards due to struggles at the US Postal Service.”
Because it is civilian in nature, Representative Tlaib’s proposed Emergency First Responder Corps would also provide a source of jobs that simultaneously boosts our economy and supports our fellow Americans. It’s no surprise that 88 percent of likely voters support the formation of an Emergency First Responders Corps, according to recent polling by Data for Progress and The Justice Collaborative. Support for Representative Tlaib’s proposal remained high across the aisle and among all categories of people.
Neighbors have been doing this sort of outreach for centuries, and it has been successfully implemented on a larger scale in many communities. In Eugene, Oregon, CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets) has worked for decades to help people in crisis. They respond primarily to those who are suicidal, houseless, ill, or just having trouble getting the basics they need to survive.
In this moment of heightened vulnerability, it’s time to invest in a new national service model to get Americans back to work behind a shared purpose of helping one another through crisis.
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