Legislation helps to provide basic needs for youth and families during pandemic

During a recent call about the Mentoring Match Grantee line item, Representative Aaron Vega stressed coronavirus’ impact on marginalized populations: “we really need to think of those vulnerable people, those people who don’t have support.”


Mentoring programs can be pivotal in the development and mental wellbeing of young people, but food and shelter are equally as important. I have already spoken with several of my colleagues in the Boston public school system who have seen their roles completely morph over the last couple months. Ensuring the wellbeing and development of young people is our number one priority. 


Although frontline workers are critical to the wellbeing of tens of thousands of youth, advocates can aid in the fight to guarantee basic necessities for young people. The Massachusetts State House has passed a number of pieces of legislation to help struggling families through these times. One recent act, H.4647, provides a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. Ensuring the safety and security of families and youth during this time is of the utmost priority. 


With millions of workers filing for unemployment, and even more being furloughed, measures such as this one ensure that families are kept off the streets and youth are able to focus on school and their families. Additionally, H.4616 has enabled municipalities and school districts to redirect funds to address the impact of COVID-19 on education. It relaxes requirements of proof for aid and bars the termination of essential services such as water, trash collections, etc. Ideally, I would like to see internet service included due to its necessity for online classes, which is a challenge in some of the state’s more rural communities. 


The push to reclassify internet service as a utility has been going on throughout the country for years now, and here is a prime example of its importance in the current state of our society. Additionally, this act enables seniors to postpone or waive competency tests in order to graduate on time. Postponing these tests will give extra time to students who struggled with the initial adaptation to quarantine or lack the technology to reliably attend lectures. Together, these two acts alleviate much of the stress that young people are exposed to during the quarantine, contributing to both physical and mental health.


Already, we have seen a number of pieces of legislature addressed to tackle the ongoing crisis. 


H.4672 and S.2618 further account for marginalized populations. S.2618 provides additional support to those affected by COVID-19 by enabling people to collect unemployment more often while also lifting the cap on dependency benefits for unemployed people with children. 


Meanwhile H.4672 aims to alleviate disparities in treatment. These two pieces of legislation look to tackle the systemic nature of poverty as it relates to the current situation. Marginalized populations are currently being hit the hardest of any socioeconomic class, yet they have the least amount of resources and support. These are the same populations whose youth are struggling to focus on school due to the stress of having sick or financially unstable family members. If these youth do not need to worry as much about their families’ health or financial concerns, then they will be able to focus on school and being a kid. By securing the wellbeing and stability of all of our communities, we can look to return to normalcy sooner. 


Similarly, H. 4622 would appropriate $17 million in emergency funding for families receiving Transitional Aid and $6 million for those receiving Emergency Aid to the elderly, disabled, and children. Unfortunately, it is still in the House Ways & Means committee. Advocacy is crucial during these times to make sure that acts like this one pass to alleviate the struggles of people who need help.


A few blocks away from the State House, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has assembled a task force for a project called “Rising to the Challenge,” aimed at combating youth and young adult homelessness. This project launched in November of 2019, and now it is being put to the test. Services include overnight shelters, resources to earn a high school diploma, LGBTQ+ organizations, employment agencies, criminal history support, and more. To access these resources, click here.

The current stay at home order is slowly being lifted. Bostonians in particular have expressed caution and seek to avoid daily life on crowded public transportation. There are strong indications that many will continue to work remotely after the order is lifted. Legislation can only go so far in curbing the effects of this virus. In the end, our collective actions will influence the trajectory beyond the scope of the State House.

Jackson Slaughter is the AmeriCorps Ambassador of Mentoring Communications and Network Outreach Associate at Mass Mentoring Partnership.