Thomas: Early opening may cause ‘second wave’

Published 10:45 am Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Earlier this week, many Americans began to receive stimulus checks as a result of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
The checks were sent to assist families struggling amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, to be used to pay bills, rent and buy groceries.
Dallas County Family Resource Center Executive Director James Thomas fears a crisis in Selma and across the nation, if people fail to spend their stimulus checks appropriately.
“I’m concerned with what people are going to do with their stimulus money,” said Thomas. “The money was intended to be used to pay bills and a majority of the people we work with are lower income individuals who struggle financially anyway. For those people, getting a check like this could be an opportunity for them to catch up and get ahead on their bills.”
If recipients fail to spend their stimulus money appropriately, Thomas fear many in Dallas County will have their utilizes turned off and even be evicted.
“If they don’t spend that money on their bills, then when the utility companies ask for the back payments, most people are not going to be able to afford it. We’ve got now two to three months of utility bills that are all going to be due at one time. For some people, those bills are going to be six, seven, eight hundred dollars. Most of those people aren’t going to be able to afford that,” said Thomas. “If people don’t use their stimulus checks to pay their utilities, when the utility companies ask for the payment, a lot of people are going to have their utilities turned off.”
The DCFRC offers a multitude of services to its clientele – among them, utility and rent assistance.
“We don’t have the funding to pay people’s complete bills we can only pay small portions of them,” said Thomas. “The social services in place are not going to be able to handle that. That’s a major concern that I have. When utility companies start asking for money, when the court systems open back up and start processing evictions again, when landlords start asking for rent…they have to pay those bills. And if they haven’t been using their stimulus money to pay them, they will have their utilities turned off, they will get evicted and there will not be enough support to help all those people. I feel like that’s going to create a tremendous crisis in Selma and across the country.”
Beyond the overwhelming of the DCFRC’s social services, Thomas has concerns for the well-being of the people of Dallas County, particularly if the state’s economy is reopened at the end of the month, as is Gov. Kay Ivey’s current plan.
“It’s a tremendous health risk… to everyone really,” said Thomas. “You have to understand the motivation to reopening everything and to be honest it is all about money. Our country, our economy, can’t function without people working. The government gets their money from the taxation of the goods and services and labor of American citizens. If people aren’t working, then no one is getting any money. Not the employees, not the government, not the companies.”
“So, the impetus behind reopening is not because it’s safe, in my opinion, but because in order for the country to keep going people have to go back to work,” continued Thomas. “What I’m seeing, or what I believe is going to happen, is that lots and lots of people are going to get sick and this virus is going to spread around to once things open back up.”
Thomas expressed the belief that, in the event the economy is reopened too soon, an even deadlier “second wave” of the virus could take hold of Dallas County and the rest of the nation.
“I really see that we are on the precipice of the second round of the virus once we reopen, and I expect the second round to be much worse than the first,” said Thomas. “I feel as though, for the most part, social distancing and shutting down help prevent the spread of the virus. Once you start taking those protections away, you put people at a greater risk and I feel we’re going to see am explosion in cases. I just want to caution people to do whatever they can to protect themselves.”
“I think it’s very important for people to wear whatever personal protective equipment they can find,” said Thomas. “Wear gloves when you’re out in public but change those gloves as soon as you leave wherever you are. Wash and sanitize your hands consistently.”
Thomas encouraged the people of Dallas County to use the same mentality as changing diapers whenever the venture out into the public for supplies or groceries.
“A good way to look at it is if you have children and you change a dirty diaper, you wash your hands right after,” he said. “You should use the same mentality for whenever you go out in public. The more you protect yourself, the less likely you are to get sick.”
“All that being said, I still feel that- even with those precautions- people are going to get sick,” Thomas went on. “[Dallas County] has seen a very low mortality rate in this, but anyone dying is an awful thing. The reality is that the average citizen that is healthy is not going to die from the coronavirus but their grandmother or their sister with a compromised immune system or their neighbor or their coworker potentially could so we have to be as safe as possible as we go out and begin to function again.”
As the pandemic continues Thomas said he and the rest of the DCFRC staff will continue to serve Dallas County remotely to keep themselves and their clients safe from the virus.
Though complications from COVID-19 have touched everyone’s lives, in one way or another, Thomas says there is an upside in weathering the pandemic as well, including quality time with his family, a stronger faith in God and the opportunity to reprioritize what’s truly important.
“This is an amazing opportunity for the United States to show its true character,” said Thomas.
“Each individual person has a right to take care of their own selves and their own family as well as being responsible to protect other Americans. This is an opportunity for us to grow close as a country. To work together better and put aside political, religious and racial differences and support each other. I feel like there’s enough good people in America that we can get through this and come out better on the other side.”