County commissioner joins push for COVID-19 reforms

Moratorium on evictions, 20 days paid emergency leave, other reforms comprise pandemic response

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and fatalities increase in Illinois, the state's entrenched racial divide has been brought into stark relief.

In Illinois, African Americans are roughly 14 percent of the population, but they comprise around 28 percent confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 and account for around 43 percent of confirmed COVID-19-related deaths, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

First District Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, whose district includes a portion of North Riverside, recently joined a group of activists and elected officials who are pressuring local and state officials to support measures that they say are less radical now that the country faces a pandemic and a recession.

"It's very clear that this pandemic has exposed what is wrong with our society," Johnson said. "Many of the families that are suffering in this pandemic have been living in crisis mode for generations."

Johnson said the package of reforms, collectively called Right to Recovery legislation, is a series of progressive proposals that have been on the table at various levels of government for years, but that have not gotten much traction. The pandemic, however, has illustrated their importance.

The proposals, according to a memo released by the Right to Recovery coalition in March, include 20 days of paid emergency leave for all workers who need it; a "moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, rent and mortgage collections, housing for homeless and lease extensions for tenants, if needed"; and weekly payments of $750 "to all families with school children and all workers facing furloughs, layoff and reduction in hours" among other measures.

The proposals also include the release of inmates in Cook County Jail who are locked up on cash bonds and the immediate release of individuals who are 50 and older, or who are at high-risk for contracting COVID-19.

"It's interesting that there's such a harsh critique over finding necessary resources to invest in communities that have been disinvested in for generations and decades," Johnson said. "What we see is the idea of government being socially responsible is not as far-fetched an idea as people want to make it out to be.

"The last depression in this country that people can refer to, outside of 2008 -- the Great Depression -- had 30 percent unemployment among white men. Our country called that a national crisis. Nobody pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. The government invested in them."

Read a full list of Right to Recovery legislation and watch the coalition's press conferences at actionnetwork.org/campaigns/right-to-recovery.

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