A coalition of organizations launched a “Day of Action” on Monday to press elected officials to include a progressive list of funding changes in their budgets.
Representatives from several groups gathered in front of the Clifford Davis-Odell Horton Federal Building for an 11 a.m. press conference to call on Congress to overhaul economic policy in support of justice, which they call a “Third Reconstruction.” Later, group leaders headed to a meeting of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners to continue their push as commissioners finalized the budget and tax rate.
The Tennessee Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival organized the press conference in coordination with organization chapters across the country to seek support for House Resolution 438.
The resolution is meant to outline the systemic roots and effects of poverty to lawmakers and demand changes in policies, said the Rev. Gordon Myers, a tri-chair of the Tennessee Poor People’s Campaign.
“Somebody is hurting our brothers and sisters, and it’s gone on far too long,” Myers said. “Poverty is a result of bad policy, bad policies that benefit not the peace, safety and happiness of everyone but intentionally, deliberately and systematically perpetuates interlocking injustices that enable poverty to exist.”
Organizations backing them include Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope, Restaurant Workers United and Stand for Children, which are part of the newly formed Memphis and Shelby County Moral Budget Coalition.
While the Poor People’s Campaign is focused on federal lawmakers, the Moral Budget Coalition is pushing local officials to prioritize vulnerable people in spending as the city and county finalize their budgets for the coming fiscal year.
The budget and tax rate are up for a final vote before the Board of Commissioners at its meeting that began at 3 p.m. The Memphis City Council delayed finalizing the budget to their June 15 meeting.
The coalition first called on city and county elected officials last month, asking that they maintain the current property tax rates and use the revenue generated for public education, public transportation, affordable housing, support for people experiencing homelessness and other efforts to support workers and young people.
Some of the funds the coalition would reallocate come from city and county coffers, while the rest are American Rescue Plan Act dollars.
Since the coalition’s initial request, the Board of Commissioners added time at the end of their committee meetings last week to allow presentations from the organizations.
However, some commissioners took issue with how late in the budgeting process the coalition made their requests.
“My feelings about this and where we are in the budget are conflicted because we’ve spent so much time in these meetings and we’re only just doing this today,” Commissioner Tami Sawyer said last week. “One of the things I hope is, regardless of what comes out here, with this conversation this budget season, that we get ahead of the game to talk about what a moral budget actually looks like for next fiscal year as well.”
Some commissioners had other questions regarding the details of how the proposed funding would be distributed and spent.
Cardell Orrin, executive director of Stand for Children, assured commissioners last week that the coalition would return with additional details but asked that money be set aside toward the moral budget.
“We ask you to put the trust in us that you put into the corporate community,” Orrin said. “When you’ve given them pilots and allowed them to say ‘we’re going to come back with metrics,’ put aside a pot of money and say you can’t spend this until you have goals and outcomes.”
This story will be updated.
Carrington J. Tatum is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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