‘Morally Indefensible’: Rev. William Barber Slams GOP Reluctance on More Coronavirus Aid

In this April 2, 2018 file photo, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, center, and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, left, co-chairs of the Poor People's Campaign, speak at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn. Barber led a town hall on the US Senate race Tuesday. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

By Billy Ball

August 4, 2020

The NC progressive faith leader led a telethon-like ‘virtual march’ Monday, demanding more federal aid from Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell.

Days after the expiration of a pandemic boost in federal unemployment benefits for 20 million Americans, Rev. William Barber’s Poor Peoples Campaign hammered Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell Monday, suggesting the Kentucky lawmaker’s resistance to jobless aid is “evil.”

“This is time for some righteous indignation,” Barber said during Monday’s “virtual march.” 

In a separate statement, Barber said the campaign — which was originally launched by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 — was sending McConnell’s office a copy of the Bible and the US Constitution to “remind him and his staff that his cruelty toward the millions facing hunger, eviction and unemployment is morally indefensible, constitutionally inconsistent and economically insane.”

Federal unemployment benefits included a flat $600 weekly payment on top of state benefits, but Republicans have broken sharply with Congressional Democrats on whether to extend those benefits.

Some in the GOP have suggested cutting them to $200 weekly or basing the benefits on an individual’s income prior to losing their job. US House Democrats want to extend the $600 payment through January.

Republicans have indicated they do not want the unemployment aid to end entirely, although they have argued that the $600 payments were overly generous and could dissuade people from returning to work.

What about Tillis, Burr?

NC senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr have been non-committal on extending benefits. And a Tillis spokesperson has indicated that, like McConnell, he believes additional benefits might only compound the state’s economic woes.

A Yale University study, however, found no evidence to back the claims that benefits would slow an economic recovery. 

“We need to make sure unemployment insurance is continued,” McConnell said in late July. “There is a controversy, however, over whether the provision in the previous measure that allowed people to make more money staying at home than going back to work was a good idea. That’s not going to be our recommendation. But I do think basic unemployment insurance — fundamentally handled by the states but backed up by us — will be a part of” the GOP package.

The Senate leader added last week that about 20 members of his caucus do not want to pass another relief bill at all. 

Barber’s progressive, faith-based nonprofit is one of many groups lobbying federal lawmakers to reach a deal on additional coronavirus relief, with benefits lapsing at the same time as a federal moratorium on evictions. 

The NC preacher led the state’s “Moral Monday” protests of conservative state legislative policies, although he has been more active in national debates in recent years.

“The Senate has been more concerned about corporations,” Barber said Monday, noting the majority of aid passed by federal lawmakers in the spring went to corporations and banks

NC Gov. Roy Cooper has urged members of Congress to “do more, as quickly as possible” to pass additional aid for states. 

Democrats and the White House indicated they held a “productive” meeting on another stimulus bill Monday, although they had not agreed on a deal yet. 

During Monday’s virtual talk, Barber urged thousands of listeners to call McConnell’s office to demand more relief. 

The coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 126,000 North Carolinians and killed more than 2,000, has also devastated the economy. More than 1.2 million in the state have filed for unemployment since mid-March, some reporting lengthy delays in receiving their benefits.

A series of GOP-led reforms by the state legislature also left the state’s unemployment programs one of the least generous in the nation. 

Rev. Liz Theoharis, director of the Kairos Center for Rights. Religions and Social Justice in New York City, called McConnell’s position on additional COVID-19 aid “downright heresy.”

“What McConnell is doing is sin of the highest order,” Theoharis said. “Bailing out the rich and abandoning the poor is evil.”

The campaign was also joined by the actor and comedian D.L. Hughley, who tested positive for the coronavirus last month. 

“We in this country have proven that we have a disdain for the poor,” said Hughley.


  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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