PATERSON, NJ - The difference in priorities between the Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C. couldn’t be more stark, U.S. Senator Robert Menedez said during a press conference Monday.
With a table on either side of him, one holding the staples of a family’s food pantry, the other three empty martini glasses, Menendez lambasted Senator Leader Mitch McConnell and other GOP leaders for fighting harder to give wealthy businessmen a tax break on their “three martini lunches” than to help families severely impacted by the COVID-19 induced economic crisis.
The strong words came at CUMAC, the Paterson based non-profit which runs a food pantry and multiple programs aimed at alleviating hunger. “CUMAC has been in pandemic relief mode for 22 straight weeks,” Mark Dinglasan, the organization’s executive director said, adding that they have seen a “dramatic increase” in individuals and families seeking help.
“We give you the food that we would give our families,” he said, listing bread, eggs, milk, and fresh fruit as some of the grocery items they offer. However, he continued, “ending hunger has nothing to do with giving people food.”
Indeed, the food that CUMAC distributes to more than 3,200 individuals a month may be the most tangible result of their efforts, but the mission is much greater, Dinglasan said. “Feeding people is about giving people food, but effectively fighting food insecurity is about giving people food and then making sure they have equitable access to basic needs and services.”
Speaking to the recently expired unemployment benefit of $600 per week, Menendez lamented that while “thousands of New Jersey families are literally running out of money to pay for basic necessities,” and being able to keep a roof over their heads will be impossible if eviction and foreclosure bans also run out, “White House and Republican leaders in the Senate refuse to negotiate a new stimulus and sat on their hands for months.”
26 million adults go without enough food to eat, Menendez said, citing a July Census Bureau report. “And yet, Republicans in Washington continue to waste precious time arguing among themselves over what to cut versus what to provide as people needlessly suffer in the midst of a pandemic.”
Instead of offering additional funding for food programs, GOP leaders are working to double the tax break for business lunches from 50 to 100 percent, an incentive, Menendez said, that will cost $3 billion.
Menendez went on to list his own priorities for a new stimulus package, including increased unemployment benefits; greater housing protection for renters, homeowners and seniors; resources to support hospitals and nursing homes to ramp up testing and vaccine production; and additional aid for struggling small businesses and transit systems.
Efforts must also be made to “address the stark reality that if you're a black or brown, you're more likely to be infected or die from COVID- 19,” and to close the digital divide so that distance learning can be effective for children from all socioeconomic backgrounds.
“Unfortunately, we can't do any of those things if the President and the Senate Majority Leader don't get their priorities straight,” Menendez said. “In the midst of a national pandemic and economic crisis, we must focus our limited resources on the most vulnerable and the people in places who need the help the most.”
Offering his unwavering support to Menendez’ efforts to deliver additional aid to Paterson, and New Jersey, families, was Mayor Andre Sayegh. “You're seizing the initiative to send a message to everyone that this is a time for compassion when we've lost one hundred and fifty thousand Americans to this scourge,” Sayegh said, urging other federal lawmakers to follow New Jersey’s senior senator by taking “action.”
While Paterson was one of the hardest hit cities in the region, a factor that will equate to federal dollars if Menendez’ SMART Act becomes law, Sayegh celebrated the fact that only one new COVID case was announced on Sunday.
Even with numbers going down, Sayegh said, Paterson “will not let our guard down,” and will continue to take steps to focus on the most vulnerable like senior citizens and residents. These cohorts, he continued, have been a priority since the earliest days of the public health crisis, leading to efforts to work with supermarkets to carve out special shopping hours for senior citizens, and then a volunteer program called “Neighbor Express” that brought groceries right to their homes.
“Compassion and action,” Sayegh said, were what has helped get Paterson through the pandemic, and that’s what’s needed from federal lawmakers as they consider the next stimulus package to get America back on track.
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