Keep the lights on for our kids

Katie Rock is the Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Iowa. Beyond Coal is a national campaign led by the Sierra Club to retire the U.S. coal fleet by 2030. You can find her on Twitter @KatieRockIA. -promoted by Laura Belin

Our current unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. Now is the time when we need to think and act boldly as a community so we can all get through this together. We need our state, and our service and utility providers to step up for families. We need to ensure no one faces eviction or loses their essential services during this time.

For the past few months, I and so many other parents have been doing the impossible – work full time while simultaneously juggling in-home schooling and parenting. Still, I understand that I am one of the fortunate ones. I still have a job and stable income, as does my partner, and we are able to make ends meet. My employer and colleagues are understanding and take delight in having my kids pop into our zoom calls to tell knock-knock jokes over my shoulder.

This is not the reality for Iowans facing financial hardships during this time. Already unemployment is up to 8 percent, tripled from this time last year, making ends even harder to meet for those families.

People all across our state are navigating this pandemic with limited options and resources. Essential workers are having to find friends, family, and neighbors to help with childcare and chores, which also means opening their home to the risk of illness. Those who have lost jobs are having to scramble to get bills paid or risk eviction or utility shut offs, not to mention just getting food on the table.

Before the pandemic hit, I had child care options and my children attended local schools. Trying to manage work from home and parenting was a challenge, but it was manageable under normal circumstances. As a parent of three young children, I never thought the day would come that I would be trying to manage potty training my youngest while on a conference call with my work colleagues. On a good day, this all just seems comical, but for many parents none of this is a joking matter.

While this fall some families will have the option to send their children back to school, many will not. Suddenly the resources that become essential to our children’s learning and development have changed – tablets and computers, electricity, and wifi at home are all crucial to ensure our children’s education is not hindered.

And these things are expensive. Economic disparities that already existed pre-pandemic are only becoming further pronounced when it comes to our children’s educational outcomes. Adding this items stretches family budgets even further, and beyond the breaking point for some. Utility shut-offs have always been a threat to health and well being, but now it also threatens our children’s futures for the long term.

Children who are left behind during this pandemic will only watch that education gap widen when they return to the classroom.  We cannot fail them now and we cannot wait for federal action that may not come.  We must call on Governor Kim Reynolds to extend the moratorium on shut-offs and call for expanded programs to help families with utility bill forgiveness and support for the long haul.

This pandemic has been a challenge for us all, and clearly more for some more than others. The grief, the fear, the uncertainty all weighs on us each day. Many of us have lost friends and family members. Many are struggling with the emotional and mental challenges of this on a daily basis while trying to be strong for our families and colleagues and persevere. 

We need to stand together during this time and support those who have been hit hardest. I hope that my neighbors will stand with me in calling upon our governor to show true leadership during this time and ensure that no families lose their home, their electricity, or their water during this time.

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