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Biden administration goes to church to spread the word on housing assistance


Bishop J. Drew Sheard delivers his remarks directly on camera.

“As the country continues to go through the downturn in the coronavirus pandemic, The Church of God in Christ wants you to know that we are concerned about all that you may experience,” said Sheard, seated at a desk. “Millions of Americans continue to grapple with the economic impact of the pandemic, including unpaid rents and the threat of eviction.”

Sheard then shares information about the Federal Rent Assistance Program, a public service announcement sent to the entire database of The Church of God in Christ, the largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States.

As COVID-19 devastated millions of homes across the country, billions of aid have been made available. But making sure it reaches those who need it most remains a challenge. The Biden administration turned to religious leaders and organizations.

“We knew that by working with churches, synagogues or temples, we would be able to reach the target population for many of these programs,” said Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo. Where some communities have been deprived of government resources, he said, religious institutions often try to replace them.

Work with groups like the Jewish Federation of North America, which represents 146 local federations, the Conference of National Black Churches, which represents 30,000 congregations, and Catholic Charities USA, which serves over 15 million people of all faiths through year, helped the administration reach more people.

“In our community, there is an information gap or gulf, so some people are not even aware of the benefits of [the Child Tax Credit], or they don’t know what full reimbursement means for people who are below the poverty line, ”said Pastor Gabriel Salguero of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, which includes several thousand Hispanic evangelical congregations. “So one of the things we need to do as a coalition is make it translatable.”

Other barriers to providing aid include a lack of momentum within the federal government. The African American community is questioning federal government claims of unconditional aid, said Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson of the National Conference of Black Churches.

“I think trust in the source of information is essential for the success of programs, so if you can get people in communities who are trustworthy on a granular level, they can be helpful in getting people to take help, ”Richardson said. “We are trying to assure them to the best of our ability that there will be no consequences to this.”

In this case, it is the pastors who are there to bless babies, preach every Sunday and the most trusted voices in times of pain and sorrow.

For Richardson and Sheard, the partnership with the Biden administration during the pandemic was a change from their past relationship with the federal government. Sheard called the administration’s eagerness to work with the community “refreshing.”

But the relationship was not just a dissemination of information.

“We do two things: I think we let the community know what the programs are and how to access them, but we also inform the government: ‘hey, when you carry out certain policies or practices, it is so. that it affects our communities, ”says Salguero.

For several faith groups, there have been concerns about ensuring that child tax credit payments reach the poorest Americans, those who are not required to pay taxes and therefore not in the system. Many have argued for the child tax credit payments to be permanent, an effort backed by the Biden administration.

Faith groups have also expressed frustration with the distribution of rent assistance, which is administered at state and local levels. While some are successful, others have moved little money so far. Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, called it a “bulky process”, delayed by bureaucracy.

“It has been difficult for our agencies to access money for eviction prevention,” she said. The organization has held workshops to help their administrators and owners across the country.

Since last month, 83% of the $ 46 billion in rental assistance available has not been spent. But with 1.4 million homes served, the Treasury Department has called the program a success while acknowledging that there is still a long way to go to potentially avoid thousands of unnecessary evictions. The Treasury Department is trying to make the guidelines more flexible and plans to reallocate the money where it can be used more quickly.

But where the government builds new bridges, the goal is for relationships to last.

“We want to make sure that during the pandemic we reach as many Americans as possible, but a big part of that is not just the pandemic, but also building infrastructure for the future,” Adeyemo said.

Religious groups don’t always keep pace with government, but it’s a sentiment many agree on.

“I think in some ways the pandemic has spurred other links and partnerships,” said Galen Carey of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Sheard, who lost his mother to COVID, is also on board. Amid promoting immunization in his Detroit community and sharing financial aid information, he sees a silver lining in building a future new relationship between the government and his city.

“Absolutely,” Sheard said without stopping. “Absoutely.”

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