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Northwestern expert available on people seeking safety net assistance in wake of COVID-19

‘We are going to see a dramatic rise in people below the poverty line seeking public services who have never done so before’

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University School of Communication Professor Michelle Shumate warns that the patchwork response to school closures, economic peril and transportation needs will fall far short of meeting the needs of an exponential increase in the number of people experiencing poverty in the U.S.

An expert in interorganizational networks, Shumate can speak to the collaborations that will need to emerge among government agencies, businesses and nonprofits to save lives and ensure people’s basic needs are met in the wake of COVID-19. In the fall of 2018, she spent time with the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands, investigating how they responded to the meningococcal outbreak.

Shumate is available for media interviews. Media can contact Erin Karter at (cell) 312-273-0277 or erin.karter@northwestern.edu to set up an interview.

Shumate points to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as an early leader in the area of community coordination. He appointed a COVID-19 food czar to coordinate the food distribution efforts and a COVID-19 public-private partnership czar. Most municipalities have promoted various initiatives without attempting to coordinate them -- creating an incomprehensible patchwork of programs for affected individuals, Shumate said.

Quote from Professor Shumate:

“Many Americans are facing economic and social hardships that they’ve never encountered before. In the past two weeks, more than 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment. On average, these individuals will receive about half of their regular paycheck. Within weeks most American will need help meeting basic needs — food, hygiene products, making payments for utilities and housing. Municipalities must make the social safety net easier to navigate.

“The United States operates with a patchwork of government agencies, private businesses and nonprofits who offer different and usually disjointed services. In regular times, this means that individuals who need help must navigate a somewhat complex web of communication to discern who can help them. In times of crisis, this patchwork either adapts into a unified network under one authority or creates a confusing cacophony of messages."