On Thursday evening, Americans have one last chance to hear President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden on the same stage for 90 minutes. While neither candidate is likely to change course or depart from their stump speech, Americans deserve to hear both candidates address the pressing issue of poverty.

Since the start of the pandemic, according to two studies, the number of Americans officially living in poverty has grown by six to eight million. These estimates, which come as a direct result of Congress and the Trump administration’s failure to pass a new aid package, are likely conservative.

Even before the pandemic, our research with the Institute for Policy Studies found that 140 million people in this country were poor, or one fire, storm, health care crisis, or job loss away from it.

As religious leaders and co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, our work is rooted in communities where people live every day in and on the edge of crisis. By the time we reach Nov. 3, too many of America’s 140 million poor and low-income people will have lost loved ones whose hands they couldn’t hold, but whose bills and medical debt they must pay. They will have lost jobs and timed out of unemployment insurance. They will have lost their homes.

Poor and low-income people now face the enormous pressures of staying safe at home, at work, and all the places in between. They are managing the ups and downs of remote learning and hybrid classrooms and facing every day without any assurance that things will get better. Our federal government’s failure to provide relief is nothing less than what we call policy violence — suffering that results directly from the decisions of those who wield political power.

These 140 million Americans are not “red” or “blue.” They’re of every color, age, gender and sexual orientation, and they live in every census tract and congressional district of this country. According to our research, 63 million poor and low-income people are eligible voters, but many of their main concerns have not been addressed by either political party.

In fact, to date there hasn’t even been a serious debate on their health and economic well-being. That’s why in September, the Poor People’s Campaign invited both major-party presidential candidates to a conversation on the concerns of the poor.

Trump did not respond to our invitation. But Biden joined us and made this statement about what would happen in his administration: “Ending poverty will not just be an aspiration. It will be a theory of change — to build a new economy that includes everyone, where we reward hard work, we care for the most vulnerable among us, we release the potential of all our children, protect the planet.”

As people of faith and conscience, we take these commitments seriously.

Since the nominating conventions this summer, we have looked closely at both parties’ platforms and compared them to the policy demands our members have developed. The Republican platform has not been updated since 2016 — a startling admission that they have no plan for the pandemic, which has required an infusion of resources into health care, worker protections and an expanded safety net.

In fact, the 2016 Republican platform called for cuts to welfare programs and wanted to put Medicaid on the chopping block.

The 2020 Democratic platform comes closer to offering a response. The Democrats’ Covid-19 plan preserves and expands health care, including Medicaid and a free public option for the poor, until the pandemic ends and the economy recovers. It would make all workers eligible for paid family and medical leave, and unemployment insurance would be expanded. And it would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026.

These policies don’t meet our campaign’s full vision or agenda. We think health care should be expanded to all permanently through Medicaid expansion and the adoption of a universal, single-payer system, and we demand a much faster implementation of wage increases, debt forgiveness and other goals.

But the Democratic platform does show a desire to address the issues of poverty and economic insecurity that we have been raising.

Poor people have a huge stake in this election. This is why we have committed to do M.O.R.E. — mobilize, organize, register, and educate poor and low-income voters. We’re bringing people into a movement that votes and that will hold the next administration, whoever it is, accountable to the needs and demands of 140 million Americans.

We have been building this campaign across 45 states for nearly three years, but the pandemic has given this work tremendous new urgency. The people we are organizing are concerned about one thing: Who is advancing policies that address our concerns around poverty, and who is not?

Leading up to and on Nov. 3, we will work to unleash the power of poor and low-income voters. And every day after, we will organize that power into a transforming force to change the heart and soul of this nation. As America listens to the final debate, nearly half of us will be waiting to hear what Trump and Biden have to say to poor and low-income people.

In this combination image of two photos showing both President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo)
In this combination image of two photos showing both President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo)

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