The pandemic has hurt Arizona’s families. Will Republicans finally make them a priority?

February 24, 2021 1:02 pm

Gov. Doug Ducey gives a live-streamed State of the State speech on Jan. 11, 2021. The speech was virtual because Arizona is experiencing the worst COVID-19 outbreak since the pandemic began in March 2020. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

We’ve been living in our pandemic bubbles for so long that it’s easy to feel disconnected from our neighbors.

Some of us have been fortunate in that the worst thing about this pandemic has been the boredom of living within a confined space or the inconveniences of working from home.

But for far too many, this past year has been one of tremendous stress and trauma.

Family members have been separated from loved ones and are grieving the loss of life in isolation. Teenagers, stuck behind screens and detached from their peers, are experiencing high rates of depression and anxiety. Parents (mainly mothers) have been forced to choose between a paycheck and unsupervised children and are leaving the workforce in droves.

And though the spread of the virus has slowed and vaccines promise hope that life will return to some sort of new normal, we need to acknowledge we are still in the middle of a health and economic crisis.

Our most recent unemployment rate is still significantly higher compared to a year ago, and according to an analysis by the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, “1 in 3 Arizona households cannot afford usual expenses, 1 in 6 renters are behind on rent, and 1 in 8 households sometimes or often do not have enough to eat.”

So, why are Gov. Doug Ducey and many of our state legislators not responding in kind? Where is the urgency in addressing the needs of Arizona’s families?

One would assume our legislators would be laser focused on pandemic-related issues. But sadly, they’re not.

Instead, lawmakers seem intent on finding solutions to problems that do not exist, like creating additional hurdles for voters or quashing renewable energy rules for public utilities or setting up more barriers to bodily autonomy.

They are wasting their time squabbling over the Big Lie and whether to jail county supervisors while parents are scrambling to feed their kids and avoid homelessness.

Legislative leaders are blowing an opportunity. Thanks to the federal government, our state isn’t in debt. In fact, we have more than a $350 million surplus from last fiscal year as well as an expected surplus for this year and another billion in the state’s rainy day fund.

This is money that could be used to help working families in the form of increased childcare subsidies and expanded healthcare coverage as well as job training and rental assistance. And money to provide more funding for homeless services, something state leaders have ignored despite a rising homeless population.

We know our students have fallen behind, so why aren’t we focused on serious proposals to fund academic recovery classes and expanded summer school? Now is the perfect time to implement poverty weights to tackle an achievement gap — which will be even worse thanks to the pandemic — and a plan to hire additional school counselors to address our state’s shameful worst-in-nation student-to-counselor ratio.

I could go on and on because the list of unmet needs is long. But sadly, few if any of these necessities will be funded because they’ve fallen victim to Republican ideology.

Gov. Ducey is pushing for a massive tax cut — eventually growing to $600 million a year — that will reduce revenues at a time when our state is in desperate need of investments in people.  

It’s breathtaking, really, to see how entrenched Republicans are to the failed dogma of trickle-down economics, even in a pandemic. It’s as if the sparkle of their gold-encrusted bubbles has completely blinded them to the experiences of anyone outside their small circles.

State schools superintendent Kathy Hoffman summed it up best when she said, “Anyone who thinks it’s not raining in Arizona right now needs to check their privilege.”

Hoffman went on to make an even more salient point, calling it “absurd” to prioritize tax cuts over the basic needs of our families, especially when the state has the resources to help them.

I’d be willing to bet the majority of Arizonans feel the same way. They’d much rather their lawmakers prioritize struggling families and crises that threaten our long-term recovery over another regressive tax cut.  

It won’t be long before budget discussions begin in earnest at the Capitol. That’s when we’ll find out if lawmakers are capable of stepping outside their bubbles — at least temporarily — to get a glimpse of reality and govern accordingly. 

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Julie Erfle
Julie Erfle

Julie Erfle hails from North Dakota, but has called Arizona home for more than twenty years. She began her career in Phoenix as a creative services producer at KPHO-TV5 and 3TV. Blending her background in communications with her passion for community activism, Julie launched the political blog Politics Uncuffed in 2011, and began working as a communications director and consultant on candidate and initiative campaigns. She is the former executive director of Progress Now Arizona, a progressive communications and advocacy non-profit, and a fellow with the Flinn-Brown Arizona Center for Civic Leadership and Leading for Change.