March 22, 2020

Wyden: Americans Experiencing Homelessness Must Also Have Access to Cash Payments Under Consideration in COVID-19 response

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden today announced he is urging Senate leadership to ensure that Americans experiencing homelessness can also get access to direct payments under consideration in response to the devastating economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Wyden wrote in a letter with four colleagues to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer that people experiencing homelessness are exceptionally vulnerable to the Coronavirus and face challenges in receiving healthcare and financial assistance.

“Whether inside in shelters or outside in encampments, many are already in bad health and cannot self- quarantine,” the senators wrote. “The virus could spread very fast among this population—which puts the general public at risk as well. Providing cash payments to all Americans will help both those experiencing homelessness and the general public, but specific obstacles must be considered to ensure those funds are fairly dispersed.”

The lawmakers asked for consideration of the following questions in any package of direct assistance to Americans:

• How will we distribute funds to those without a permanent address?

• If we expect to distribute funds at central locations such as homeless shelters, how will we ensure appropriate social distancing to maintain public health?

• How will we accommodate those who may not have reliable government issued identification?

• Considering people experiencing homelessness are not likely to have bank accounts or engage with traditional financial institutions, any check received would need to be cashed. Considering check cashing often takes a substantial percentage of the funds, how will we ensure persons experiencing homeless receive their fair share?

• How do we make sure adequate outreach is done so that people experiencing homelessness will be aware of the benefits to which they are entitled?

They added that any direct payments legislation should make explicit that benefits should not be considered income and do not impact eligibility for means-tested public benefit programs.

In addition to Wyden, the March 20 letter was signed by Sens. Richard Durbin (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Brian Schatz (D-HI).

The entire letter is here.


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