Caitlin Hernandez/Courier A collage of the the virtual town hall with PCC's president, members of the Assocaited Students and Rep. Adam Schiff on Friday, May 15. 2020.
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PCC student leaders had the opportunity to ask questions and share their own experiences of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic with Rep. Adam Schiff at a virtual town hall last week.

Rep. Schiff represents California’s 28th Congressional District which includes Burbank, Glendale, Hollywood, Sunland-Tujunga, and parts of Pasadena, including PCC. 

On Friday, May 15, the congressman met with President/Superintendent Erika Endrijonas and members of Associated Students on Facebook Live to discuss how the global pandemic is impacting students at PCC and what Congress is doing about it.

Rep. Schiff listened as the students told their stories. 

“I lost my job the same week that I lost my school,” said Dionne Shelton, president of Associated Students. 

During the town hall, Shelton said has applied for unemployment but has not yet received any payments. Her federal stimulus check has already gone to overdue bills. The strain has not made it easy to keep up with her classes.

“I was contemplating dropping all my classes just to go get a job so I don’t become car-less or homeless,” said Shelton, “because I don’t have any income.”

Alex Sarkissian, student trustee to PCC’s Board of Trustees shared his anxieties about his art major, which requires that he take hands-on classes that are typically taught in person. He has been accepted to CalArts, but expressed that he does not know what the new semester will look like without face-to-face classes.

For Associated Students’ Vice President of External Affairs Frida Ramirez, the virus has hit home. Three members of her family have COVID-19. Between that and the closure of PCC’s campus, her family’s Pasadena diner is struggling. She and her mother are still working the kitchen, prepping meals for delivery and pickup. Any money coming in goes to the diner’s bills and rent.

“In Congress, I’m going to continue doing everything I can to make sure that you have the resources to pay your bills and provide for yourself,” said Schiff. “We’ve been voting all morning and we’ll go well into the evening on a couple very important bills.”

Foremost among those bills is the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act. It’s another record-breaking stimulus package largely continuing and expanding the scope of the CARES Act which was signed into law at the end of March.

Rep. Schiff described the HEROES Act as “a $3 trillion measure to try to help stave off the worst of the economic impacts and protect people’s health.”

If it passes, the HEROES Act would provide another $1,200 check to individual Americans and steer funds toward emergency relief for a slew of federal and state programs including unemployment insurance, housing assistance, sick leave, and food assistance. Much of the funds would start as direct grants to states and cities. There also would be an expansion of the Paycheck Protection Program, so that workers who can’t work can stay on their employers’ payroll, and grants to employers to provide pandemic premium pay for essential workers.

“We’re providing billions in funding for education, K through 12 and higher ed,” said Schiff, “to make sure that students can continue, that they have the technologies and that students aren’t precluded from learning because they can’t afford the technologies or don’t have access to Wi Fi.”

However, even with that money, school budgets will still be stretched thin.

“I’m sure that the colleges are going to have very difficult decisions because what we’re providing is not going to likely cover the revenue loss that they’re experiencing,” Schiff said.

Similarly, overworked healthcare systems will need further support beyond what will be covered by the HEROES Act. Rep. Schiff expressed hope that the pandemic will prompt major changes to the American healthcare system.

“We’d be far better off with a system where everyone has access to healthcare.” he said. “I would think that the pandemic just further makes the case for that. None of us are an island.”

Rep. Schiff encouraged students, and indeed all Americans, to be proactive in seeking and asking for relief. With almost every sector of life being affected by the pandemic and huge patchwork of responses both national and local, it’s a daunting task to sift through all the available relief programs. The simplest way may often be to contact landlords or utility companies directly and state your situation.

“Many of them are willing to do that, but they’re not going to do that on their own because some people are still gainfully employed and can make payments,” Schiff said. “So they don’t want to say to everybody ‘don’t pay your bills.’ Landlords don’t want to say to everybody, ‘don’t pay your rent,’ because there are plenty of people that can still pay the rent. So you need to be proactive, but there is help for you.”

Rep. Schiff also emphasized building and maintaining those connections that seem so tenuous now that all our classmates are just little windows in a Zoom meeting.

“I would say that if you know a PCC student, do what you can to reach out to them. Find out how they’re doing, find out what they need, see if there’s something that you can do to support them right now,” said Schiff.

While the students present expressed that they have had a hard time at school and at home, they also expressed great appreciation to their classmates and committee members for reaching out and supporting them. Frida Ramirez said that her fellow Associated Students members have been like a second family and helped her maintain a feeling of campus culture even off-campus. That feeling has inspired her to continue doing what she can to help others.

“It’s really a ripple effect,” she said, “When you receive that motivation, when you receive that support, when somebody’s checking in on you, it really inspires you to do that for somebody else.”

Colin Jenkins

Colin Jenkins is a student in radio production and broadcast journalism at PCC. He has a B.A. in psychology from Earlham College. He grew up in Maryland listening to WAMU and WHFS (rip). He now lives in Hollywood with his wife, Bethy, a comedy writer who once told Laraine Newman where the bathroom was.

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