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Coronavirus Response: Resources for State Legislators

March 2020 in , ,

As the coronavirus situation continues to unfold, we’re compiling resources here to help you navigate the many challenges this presents to your community.  We will use this space to share policy, communication, and organizing resources that you can use to respond to the health, economic, and social impacts this is having on your communities.  

We know that crises like these have disproportionate impacts on vulnerable and low-income communities and want to make sure we stand up for those most at risk. As legislators, you are uniquely positioned to find solutions that mitigate the harm for at-risk medical populations (people with chronic health conditions, people with disabilities, the elderly), hourly workers, the millions of Americans without access to health care or paid sick days, and everyone who is one health emergency away from financial ruin.

The resources below can help you use your platform to provide clear, scientifically-based information to the public and advocate for better policies.

If you have actions or new policies that are happening in your states, please share them so we can provide them to other legislators across the country. Please email helpdesk@stateinnovation.org.




The Basics


Legislative Sessions and Operating Remotely

  • At extraordinary moments like today, state legislatures must adopt methods of flexible, remote governance while prioritizing transparency and public access. Read SiX’s blog post, Legislating in a Pandemic: Transparent & Remote Governance, for examples of rule/statutory changes and executive orders that have enabled states to adapt and govern amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. This resource will be updated periodically as states try new methods and lessons are learned.   
  • See SiX’s webinar on Legislating in a Pandemic feat. U.S. Representative Katie Porter (CA-45), Demand Progress, and POPVOX.
  • POPVOX and Demand Progress hosted a mock remote hearing and markup test with members of Congress. Check out their blog reviewing the exercise and watch the full mock hearing here.
  • NCSL is tracking the suspension or postponement of legislative sessions here. 

Race and the Virus: Bias, Data, Testing, and Impact

Structural racism puts people of color at greater risk to both the health and economic impacts of COVID-19.

Racial data
Coronavirus data released from the CDC does not yet include breakdowns by race. We cannot continue to fight this pandemic blindly.

Impacts
The Coronavirus Pandemic and the Racial Wealth Gap
Coronavirus Compounds Inequality and Endangers Communities of Color
On the Frontlines at Work and at Home: The Disproportionate Economic Effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic on Women of Color


Health Care


Unemployment and Protecting Stimulus Paychecks


See SiX’s Paid Family and Medical Leave Policy playbook here.

Policy Recommendations:

Examples of States’ Paid Leave Legislation in response to COVID-19

  • Offer at least 24 hours of paid sick leave per year (Kentucky)
  • Require employers to provide up to 40-56 hours of paid sick leave per year (New York)
  • Provide law enforcement officers sick leave for absences due to COVID-19 (New York)
  • Create a grant program to provide paid leave to quarantined contract workers (Ohio House and Senate)
  • Provides isolated or quarantined state employees with shared leave (Washington)
  • Expand the definition of a qualifying “serious health condition” to include workers and their families’ self-quarantining after exposure to a communicable disease (New Jersey)
  • Make COVID-19 related leave eligible for unpaid family and medical leave and allow an employer to use accrued vacation time or other time off to get paid (California)

Additional Resources


Preventing Evictions

  • National Housing Law Project’s Summary and Analysis of Federal CARES Act Eviction Moratorium
  • National Low Income Housing Coalition’s COVID-19 resources
  • A running list of state actions can be found here
  • Eviction Lab’s COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard outlines a number of protective measures states have taken to prevent eviction and homelessness and protect renters during the pandemic including eviction initiations, court processes, enforcement of eviction orders, short-term supports, and tenancy preservation measures.
  • States are using the following tools to address evictions:
    • Executive orders or Emergency orders
    • Court orders
    • Legislation
  • Policy options:
    • Pause eviction/foreclosure hearings in court
    • Eviction moratorium for renters
      • Residential
      • Small businesses
      • Nonprofits
    • Mortgage foreclosure moratorium 
    • Creating a housing assistance program (MN example) or housing vouchers
    • Guarantee housing and income
    • Offering bridge loans to small businesses and nonprofits

Preventing Utility Shut Offs and Payment Deferment

  • Compilation of government bodies & regulators and specific utilities that have ordered disconnections suspended
  • Federal Response
    • National Women’s Law Center is pushing a nationwide halt to utility shutoffs and evictions to ensure people do not experience homelessness because of the economic havoc and advocating for the bipartisan “Eviction Crisis Act” to help ensure families can access emergency help.
  • Examples of State Responses

Democracy and Voting

2020 Census 

  • The 2020 Census is still on and it is more important than ever to get out the count and encourage communities to self-respond. SiX’s Census Get Out the Count Toolkit for State Legislators has everything you need to promote the census digitally with your constituents during the pandemic and is being updated regularly. Here’s the most important message the all legislators should be lifting up: 
    • “Responding to the census has never been easier. You can fill out the form from the comfort of your home—online, over the phone, or by mail—all without having to meet a census taker in person.”
  • To make sure you’re staying informed and sharing the latest information with your constituents, check out the Census Bureau’s news room and overview of 2020 Census Operational Adjustments Due to COVID-19.
    • On April 13, the Bureau announced major operational changes for the 2020 count. All field data collection activities have been suspended until June 1, and the enumeration period has been extended until October 31, 2020. That means households will now have until the end of October to self-respond to the census, though legislators should still encourage communities to participate as soon as possible.

Voting & Elections


Reproductive Rights

  • In this urgent global health pandemic, anti-abortion lawmakers are once again playing politics with people’s lives and health, and there are very real reproductive health impacts and needs this moment presents. Here are actions state lawmakers should consider in coordination with their state coalitions and reproductive health care providers.
  • NIRH works with state and local advocates across the country to advance reproductive freedom and protect abortion access and have curated strategies here for advocates to consider to ensure that abortion care remains secure and accessible during these very challenging times. 
  • The Massachusetts Bureau of Health Care Safety and Quality issued a memo clarifying that abortion care is not considered “nonessential,” ensuring it is exempt from the ban on procedures that should be canceled or postponed.
  • Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order makes clear that pregnancy-related care and procedures should continue as needed.
  • Rewire News provides updates on governors and other state officials’ decisions on whether abortion care is an “essential” health-care service here.

Medical and Research Resources

  • The American Medical Association (AMA) published a statement against government interference in the provision of essential reproductive health care during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, along with seven other reproductive health organizations, issued a statement deeming abortion as an essential service. Read more.
  • Abortion Care Network, National Abortion Federation, Nurses for Sexual and Reproductive Health, Physicians for Reproductive Health, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America released a statement on the essential nature of reproductive healthcare. 
  • Guttmacher Institute released their policy analysis, “The COVID-19 Outbreak: Potential Fallout for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.”
  • The Texas Policy Evaluation Project published a research brief on the projected impact of the state’s executive order (declaring abortion care ‘non-essential’) on patient access to care in the state. 

Education


Rural Communities and Agriculture

See SiX’s talking points and policy solutions for rural communities and local agriculture and our memo outlining how stimulus money is expected to come into states to aid agriculture and rural communities. There are still a number of unknowns and we are continuing to monitor the situation closely.

The $2 trillion stimulus package included $9.5 billion dollars for agricultural producers impacted by coronavirus, including producers of specialty crops, producers that supply local food systems, including farmers markets, restaurants, and schools, and livestock producers, including dairy producers. You can read a summary compiled by the National Farmers Union here. Here is an analysis from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

The United States Senate Committee on Finance has a breakdown on their website of the rural healthcare resources in the recent Stimulus package. You can read it here.

Resources for Farmers in Your District

Resources for Farm Workers

Here is a guidance from NC Health & Human Services for migrant farm workers and their employers (only in English)

  • Here is a template that can be used as a temporary permit for agricultural essential employee. 
  • Farm Worker Justice released a statement on helping to ensure farmworkers are protected from COVID-19. Read it here.

Immigration

  • National Resources 
    • American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) COVID-19 Resource Center is tracking all the latest government agency updates and guidance.  
    • National Immigration Law Center (NILC) has an update on access to health care for immigrants and their families. 
    • The American Immigration Council (AIC) blog covers topics including the CARES Act, the vital role of health care workers from the immigrant community, the impact of the virus on asylum policy, and more. 
    • United Farm Workers (UFW) and others’ statement on a range of concerns for farmworkers amid COVID-19, including immigration and migration. 
    • Tahirih Justice Center’s issue brief explains the impact of COVID-19 on immigrant survivors of gender based violence and how loss of employment, isolation and violence in the home and continued ICE operations and detentions, among other factors, amplify their risk. 
    • This comprehensive national resource guide for undocumented communities has been making the rounds among advocates nationwide.
    • NELP has an updated fact sheet on immigrant workers’ eligibility for unemployment insurance.
    • The New School is hosting a webinar exploring Why Immigrant Workers Are Especially Vulnerable To COVID-19
  • State Resources
    • Alabama immigrant rights groups identify the state’s role in ensuring the statewide information hotline is accessible in different languages to provide critical information about COVID-19 and health resources. 
    • New York Immigration Coalition has a list of measures that the federal government, New York state, and New York City can take to ensure that immigrant communities stay safe and healthy. 
    • Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Coalition has compiled immigration policy and enforcement updates for the state. 
    • MD/VA/DC: CAIR Coalition calling for “ICE and EOIR immediately allow legal service providers to remotely access and represent individuals in all detention centers where persons are held in ICE custody and in all courts that remain open during this national emergency.”
    • Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition has a list of education and policy actions for state elected officials. 
    • Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) has a list of requests for the federal government, California state legislature, and Los Angeles County. 
    • Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA) has launched the People’s Bailout, a platform of proposals to deal with COVID-19 and the projected economic aftermath.
    • Immigrant communities in Washington can use resource list for immigrant communities from OneAmerica for resources related to Covid and the ensuing crisis.
    • In Wisconsin, Voces de la Fronteraa has compiled list of resources for immigrant communities both in Wisconsin and nationally.
    • PLAN Nevada has compiled list of resources for vulnerable communities in Nevada.
  • Immigration court closures:
  • State legislation:
    •  Vermont adopted a resolution that urges the Fed Gov’t to refrain from arresting or detaining any individual based on immigration status in health care settings and suspension of the implementation of public charge

Other Policies to Consider

Child Care

Consumer Protection

  • Minnesota has legislation to curb price gouging laws during a state of emergency.
  • West Virginia passed a law to prohibit price increases of more than 10% on a wide range of consumer products.
  • Some states have price gouging legislation limited to a single type of product or service, such as the price of prescription drugs in bills from New Hampshire, New York, Minnesota and Rhode Island; the price of medical supplies in New York; the price of gasoline in Maryland; and the price of hotels and lodging in Michigan.

Criminal Justice

  • The Prison Policy Initiative has recommendations here.
  • Advocacy for releasing juveniles from detention here.
  • The Brennan Center has compiled “policy and advocacy responses detailing how different levels of the criminal justice system are responding to this public health crisis. This includes ways in which law enforcement, prosecutors, criminal courts, corrections agencies, and immigration agencies can better safeguard their communities and the broader public during this pandemic.”
  • Furlough nonviolent prisoners

Economic Development

  • Small Business Majority has put forward a policy agenda to immediately support small businesses and jobs
  • Small business loans through the state (Florida, Massachusetts, New York) and the SBA
  • Bills in New Jersey and Ohio would require that every business interruption insurance policy include the coronavirus pandemic in its list of covered perils.
  • New Jersey legislation would provide grants during the emergency to small and medium-sized business and not-for-profit organizations.
  • MA Rep. proposes waiving liquor licenses and making sure coronavirus isn’t categorized as an “act of G-d” for insurance purposes.
  • Illinois offers tax deferments (2 months) and waives late fees/penalties

Judicial

  • A bill introduced in Louisiana would suspend certain provisions of the law which establish deadlines in legal proceedings.

Social Services

  • Expand income supports (SNAP, WIC, TANF) and remove work requirements.
  • Emergency funding for social services (food banks, homeless shelters, senior center, childcare, prisons, halfway houses, etc.)
  • Legislation in Ohio would delay eligibility redeterminations for food assistance, child care assistance, and TANF programs.

Hate Crime Prevention

  • Advocates have created guidelines to help address discrimination and racism around local health department communications, talking points around the coronavirus and public charge, and recommendations around storytelling.
  • Public Education and targeted support for LGTBQ and AAPI & indigenous communities
  • A resolution in Utah was passed that expresses solidarity and support for the Chinese people’s efforts to contain the virus and reiterates that the CDC advised to “ not to panic about the coronavirus and has warned against stereotyping people of Asian descent.”

Broadband Access

  • A New Jersey bill would urge the FCC to take temporary measures to make broadband accessible to those affected by the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Quarantined Individuals

  • A bill in the Minnesota House and Senate would provide a range of protections for a quarantined individual, including reasonable at home work accommodations, a stay of civil court actions, a waiver of negative credit reporting, and a waiver of federally guaranteed student loan obligations during a period of isolation or quarantine.

Miscellaneous


State Budgets


Messaging and Connecting with Constituents during Social Distancing

Messaging

Connecting with Constituents

Here are some ideas and examples to help you connect with your constituents remotely:

  • Host a Facebook Live Town Hall about COVID-19
    • Tell your constituents what policies or executive orders are in place to help them
    • Give specific information about how to access any assistance programs
    • Talk about ways you and your family are coping with the new normal
  • Host a Town Hall on a web video platform such as Zoom or Skype
  • Host a Telephone Town Hall
  • Send frequent E-newsletters with updates and resources
  • Host Virtual Coffee Hours (WA example)
  • Post informative graphics (MN example)
  • Keep an updated and easily accessible document with relevant information (MI example)
  • Connect with your constituents in a way that is personal to you (IL example) and keep your previously planned events, just change the location (IL example).
  • Check out the Public Rights Project’s Digital Outreach Playbook for guidance on the best practices to reach vulnerable populations.

Reach out if we can help you plan or execute any of these ideas.


National Resources on Economic Impact


Overview of the Federal Response Package

Overview of the Federal Response Package


Defend Against Harmful Policies

Opportunistic Abortion Bans

Elected officials in numerous states –including West Virginia, Alaska, Texas, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Iowa and Indiana— have taken steps to restrict abortions under the pretense of preserving medical supplies and hospital beds, claiming abortions are not “nonessential” procedures that can delayed till the end of the epidemic and most abortions do not take place in hospitals. See the Reproductive Health Care section on this page for more.

Reopening Too Soon?

Elected officials in Pennsylvania, Minnsota, Michigan, Idaho, and Florida have pushed back against stay-at-home orders, non-essential work bans, and school closures. The premature calls for returning to ‘business as usual’ threaten the safety and lives of communities.

Check out the LSSC Virtual Training on What Local Governments Can and Should Do to Respond to the Public Health Crisis for further guidance on the importance of local and state governments using their authority to protect communities from the virus.

Also check out the CAP tracker on how states and localities are enforcing stay-at-home orders

Limits to Voting Expansions

As states grapple with how to prepare their electoral systems to handle the pandemic’s unique challenges, legislators across the country have pushed for reforms (mail-in-ballots, absentee voting, deadline extensions, etc.) as a safe, secure, and accessible way for voters to participate without risking their health. However, opposition to such expansions, in states like Minnesota, Arizona, and Wisconsin, jeopardize citizens’ abilities to safely vote. See the Democracy and Voting section on this page for more.