North Memphis elected officials and community members rallied Friday, asking for funding to help funnel resources to residents who could potentially be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a press conference held at Golden Gate Cathedral on James Rd., particular concern was expressed about children, seniors and families living in poverty.
“This situation is going to disproportionately affect the working poor and those that are seniors living on a fixed income,” said State Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-98). “Because they don’t have the access that those working have, like insurance, or those who are more affluent have. Nor do they have the facilities in the communities that others may have.”
Parkinson, who initiated Friday’s press conference, stood alongside Memphis City Councilwoman Rhonda Logan, Shelby County Schools (SCS) Board Commissioner Stephanie Love, community activist Charlie Caswell, and Bishop Ed Stephens, Golden Gate’s senior pastor.
In addition to urging community members to work together, he called on Gov. Bill Lee to consider actions at the state level. Some of those requests included ensuring access to insurance and food stamps, approving emergency unemployment benefits for workers who may have to be self-quarantined, and to expand Medicaid.
On Thursday, Lee declared a state of emergency in Tennessee, a move designed to facilitate the flow of federal emergency funds into the state to help mitigate and respond to the disease.
“We know this is serious. We also know this is especially serious for neighbors who are elderly. This is why we should all take this seriously even if you are not in the vulnerable population,” Lee said in an official statement.
SCS officials announced on Thursday the extension of next week’s Spring Break until March 30 in response to the pandemic. To ensure that students don’t go without meals, the school district has since announced that feeding sites will be set up in various communities during the week of March 23-27.
Love said she’s concerned about what will happen if the break extends beyond March. She called on state officials to assist districts such as SCS with additional funds to feed students, if needed.
“Feeding parents is not the sole responsibility of Shelby County Schools, this is the reason we’re having this press conference,” Love said. “Because it’s incumbent upon everyone, all of our elected bodies – the city, the county, the state and the federal government – to come together to say how do we minimize any type of distraction for our parents and for our students.”
Love also emphasized the need for immediate action.
“As a board, we do not want to wait till that happens to work out a plan,” she said. “We want that plan to be enacted now.”
Parkinson also called on Memphis Light Gas and Water to refrain from cutting off power for residents, who may be unable to pay their utility bills.
Later Friday, MLGW announced that it would suspend the cutoff of utilities due to nonpayment until further notice.
In reference to local resources such as food pantries and childcare, Logan said she, along with other stakeholders, will be working on a community assessment to provide residents with a list of resources available in North Memphis.
“We just want to make sure we have information for the residents and that we can answer their questions and lead in a way that’s going to bring comfort and peace,” Logan said.
As of Friday, there had been 26 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. Two of those have been in Shelby County.