Loving and Mehrens: Sales tax is critical for COVID-19 recovery
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Katie Lauer.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors needs to place a sales tax on the ballot for the November Election. The reasons are straightforward and righteous.

COVID-19 demands bold action and investment, at an unprecedented scale. Since the pandemic has begun, our organizations have together served over 21,000 individuals who are suffering tremendous hardship due to COVID-19 and the resulting economic collapse.

Every day we hear their tragic stories: anxiety and pressure caused by losing jobs, losing homes, losing human contact and losing family and friends to this disease. Our teams are on the front lines with families that have no idea how they will cobble together their next meal, much less next month’s rent. And we know our region is facing an impending eviction time-bomb, with Black, Latinx and undocumented families and children at greatest risk of being pushed out of their homes.

In fact, an estimated 43,490 renter households in Santa Clara County are at the highest risk of eviction right now — roughly 16 times the typical number of evictions filed in a whole year. These are households with people who are out of work, but also do not receive unemployment or other income replacement.

Yet even as need for public services — testing and contact tracing, health clinics, affordable internet, rent relief, food banks and so many more — is greater than ever, the economic collapse means our county has lost the tax revenue that pays for those services. Unless we step up, our county faces a budget disaster.

An austerity budget means more people will suffer. And make no mistake, most of those people will be Black and Brown. Austerity politics pit communities against one another and perpetuate systemic racism. In the past few months, we have thanked essential workers and marched to say Black Lives Matter. It’s time to put our money where our mouths are.

We cannot rely on the federal government to keep us safe during this public health crisis, and we cannot expect Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump to provide the funding we need to avoid devastating cuts. Instead, we have to rely on each other. Our recent polling shows voters agree — strong majorities support spending a small amount of our own money, for just a few years, in order to prevent horrific damage to the lives and well-being of countless thousands of our friends, family members and neighbors (especially vulnerable groups like seniors and children).

While it’s true that a sales tax would impact us all, we are in an emergency. The pandemic is not under control. We are behind in testing and tracing. Hospitals expect vital equipment and supplies will run out. Senior care facilities have experienced waves of deaths. Essential workers lack protective gear. With schools closed, these workers – on whom we all depend – desperately require safe places for child care. Without more local revenues, families will become needlessly homeless. Children will needlessly face trauma. The old and isolated will needlessly face despair.

We, as citizens, deserve the chance to prevent these brutal effects from happening. It is too late to gather signatures for a ballot initiative, which means the Board of Supervisors must vote to put a sales tax on the November ballot. Voters should be given the choice to protect ourselves during a public health and economic crisis.

Great leaders often speak of a time in their lives when they faced a difficult, sometimes painful, choice. This moment is requiring us to make more of those kinds of choices than we ever thought possible. We do not actually know how history will view this moment. That is not our question. Our question is what is the right choice, in this moment, given our values.

Kudos to Supervisors Cindy Chavez, Susan Ellenberg and Dave Cortese for leading on this issue and being willing to take a risk for those who don’t have the capacity to take risks themselves. We invite others into these waters, and know that we’ve got your back. Placing a countywide sales tax on the ballot to fight COVID-19 simply makes sense.

Jennifer Loving is the executive director of Destination: Home. Derecka Mehrens is the executive director of Working Partnership, USA. They both serve on San José Spotlight’s Board of Directors.

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