United in Crisis

As the defining event of 2020, the covid-19 pandemic, and how CASA responded was a story of resilience in the face of suffering and courage in the face of loss.

The immigrant community has borne a vastly disproportionate share of the personal, physical, emotional, and economic costs of this crisis. In response to this unprecedented crisis, CASA took unprecedented action, taking the step of launching our largest ever direct aid program via our Solidarity Fund, and also tailored all of our people power and advocacy towards an immediate, equitable, and sustained recovery for our community.

Over the course of this summer, CASA convened dozens of non-profit organizations and unions, representing hundreds of thousands of Marylanders, to advocate for robust progressive local, statewide and federal policies to address the pandemic. We staffed weekly zoom meetings and led outreach to partners across the state. In coalition, we organized several letters detailing legislative recommendations including expansion of healthcare access, protections for essential workers, protections for renters and homeowners, emergency cash relief for struggling Marylanders, reduction of incarceration in the state, and more. These letters led to several meetings with key legislators, government executives and their staff to address these issues. Some of our key partners included: 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, 32BJ SEIU, AFSCME Maryland Council 3, Jews United for Justice, Job Opportunities Task Force, Maryland Center for Economic Policy, Public Justice Center, SEIU Local 500 and many more.

A copy of the demand letter that CASA and allies sent below.

April 13, 2020

Governor Larry Hogan
House Speaker Adrienne Jones
Senate President Bill Ferguson
Maryland Joint COVID-19 Response Legislative Workgroup
State House
100 State Circle
Annapolis, MD 21401

Dear Governor Hogan, Speaker Jones, President Ferguson, and Members of the Joint COVID-19 Response Legislative Workgroup:

We, the undersigned non-profit organizations and unions, appreciate your efforts so far in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the General Assembly’s passage of the emergency legislation (HB1661/SB1079) before Sine Die, and Governor Hogan’s executive orders to prevent the spread of the virus and protect Marylanders from price gouging, utility shut-offs and late-fees, evictions, repossessions, and foreclosures. Our state-wide organizations represent hundreds of thousands of working families across Maryland. Collectively, we are profoundly concerned for the families that are most vulnerable during this uncertain time and we now call on our state leaders to enact the recommendations included in this letter as soon as possible.

As you know, workers across the state have risked their health and safety to care for patients in hospitals, nursing homes and other settings, watch over our children, stock our grocery stores, clean critical businesses, and keep our communities functioning. If the State’s most vulnerable residents face economic ruin stemming from a public health crisis beyond their control, it will bring dramatic long-term negative effects on the State. Drastic intervention is necessary immediately to prevent this from happening.

In light of the uncertainty and rapidly-changing nature of this pandemic, we call on our elected government leaders to 1) expand healthcare access to all affected by the pandemic, 2) expand protections for workers, 3) require landlords and banks to ensure housing justice, 4) robustly reduce incarceration, 5) expand funding, outreach, and shelter for homeless populations, 6) support our public school teachers, staff, and students, 7) uphold fair elections 8) prevent persisting discrimination and 9) provide emergency relief funds to assist struggling Marylanders and help forestall or anticipate a catastrophic recession.

Although Maryland has started to address these areas, there is much more to be done. We therefore urge the General Assembly to reconvene as soon as possible for a special session to address these actions legislatively. The convening can be done safely and virtually, as many local governments have shown. We also call on you to advocate for our state with Maryland’s Congressional delegation and the President. Though considerable resources are coming from the federal government, it is unlikely to meet the overwhelming needs caused by this crisis. Additionally, we ask to meet with you as soon as possible to review the status of these matters and learn more about your plans to utilize your executive and legislative powers to support our more vulnerable and high-risk communities during the ongoing emergency and in the aftermath.

Expansion of Healthcare Access

With layoffs occurring as a direct response to COVID-19, many families with work-based health insurance are uninsured or underinsured. They join hundreds of thousands of other Marylanders who already lack access to health insurance, exacerbating a health care system that particularly leaves black, brown, and low-income communities behind. We strongly recommend the following actions:

  • Ensure that all COVID-19 testing and treatment is free and readily available to all, regardless of insurance status, language, race, country of origin, or immigration status.
  • Make certain that free, reliable, and multilingual telecommunication tools are available for residents to access local doctors and medical professionals.
  • Institute a moratorium on Medical Assistance terminations and suspensions.
  • Extend eligibility for Medicaid enrollment through the duration of the state of emergency.
  • Ensure that there will be no immigration status check and no ICE involvement in COVID-19 related testing or treatment.
  • Hold employers liable if they do not provide PPE or maintain social distancing where possible.
  • Ensure the Health and Safety of Essential Staff including by implementing immediate and consistent testing for the virus for all essential workplaces and their wards, immediate distribution of proper PPE’s, and requiring the creation of written plans for each worksite to execute when the virus is discovered at the worksite.
  • Require retail employers to implement the following critical safety measures: supply masks to all employees and customers, provide adequate masks, gloves, cleaning supplies, and hand sanitizer, allow employees to wear gloves and masks regardless of health condition, operate every other register to allow distancing, install plastic face guards at registers and require a six foot distance between cashiers and customers, wipe down grocery carts, self-scan screens, and credit card touch screens after every use, and limit the number of customers in a store at a time to 10 for every 10,000 square feet and a maximum of 50 people altogether.


Expand Protections for Workers

Although the federal government recently enacted a limited paid sick law and expanded family leave for some workers caring for children whose schools and daycares are closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the federal law leaves far too many workers without protection. Furthermore, Maryland’s Healthy Working Families Act does not close the gaps in coverage. Many of the most vulnerable workers, including those with low-wage jobs, are considered “essential” and potentially put their lives at risk for little more than the minimum wage. We urge bold action to ensure that all Maryland workers are protected physically and economically, and urge you to take the following actions:

  • Amend Maryland’s Healthy Working Families Act (HWFA) to complement the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), -i.e., to fill in the significant private sector gaps in the federal law. In particular:
    • Ensure that businesses with more than 500 employees provide the 80 hours of paid leave as do businesses with fewer than 50;
    • Clarify that the HWFA can be used for paid sick leave in cases of a public health emergency such as COVID-19;
    • Remove the requirements of proof or documentation in the case of a public health emergency;
    • Ensure that all Maryland employees are covered and remove the exemptions for temporary/seasonal workers, agricultural workers¹, real estate agents, and youth;
      • ¹Section §5-403 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article
    • Remove the 106-day waiting period such that anyone employed as of January 6, 2020 can access paid leave for reasons related to the public health emergency.
    • Make these amendments retroactive to at least February 1, 2020.
  • Clarify that employers are prohibited from taking disciplinary action or using absence control policies against workers who utilize sick time or leave due to COVID-19-related issues, and enact statutory penalties to encourage whistleblowing and compliance.
  • If the claimant is an adjunct faculty member (hired by the course to teach on a temporary basis) with an offer of future teaching assignment that can be cancelled, denied, reassigned or revoked at any time, the claimant will not be deemed to have reasonable assurance of re-employment in the future semester and therefore eligible for unemployment insurance. Furthermore, summers will not be considered a vacation period for institutions of higher education.
  • Enact additional protections for workers who are not considered “employees” covered under state or federal sick leave laws or unemployment insurance.
    • In addition to the reforms requested below (“Relief Fund”), Maryland should consider a program like New Jersey’s “Temporary Lost Wage Unemployment Program.”
    • This program establishes a fund to fully compensate any worker not eligible for UI at their average weekly rate from the past calendar year for COVID-19 related absences. It also establishes a fund to reimburse employers who pay wages to those quarantined.
      Condition receipt of any state COVID-19 assistance only to businesses that have retained staff salary obligations throughout the crisis, or who promise to reinstate staff with back pay in exchange for relief in the event they have already reduced staff.
  • Ensure that all state employees and contractors who are unable to telework are granted emergency leave and continue to be paid their regular salary when their places of work are shut down.
  • Ensure that essential state employees and contractors, particularly those doing jobs that place them at higher risk, such as nursing facility workers, personal care aides, and home health aides, have all appropriate protective equipment.
    To minimize layoffs and better ensure that businesses and workers are ready to return to a regular work schedule when the economy improves, ensure that programs such as the “Layoff Aversion Fund” require businesses to demonstrate they are taking advantage of the Unemployment Insurance Work Sharing Program. Work sharing reduces the number of layoffs and mitigates unemployment during recessions.² It should be required where possible.
    • ²See Katherine G. Abraham and Susan N. Houseman, “Proposal 12: Encouraging Work Sharing to Reduce Unemployment” (The Hamilton Project), https://www.hamiltonproject.org/assets/legacy/files/downloads_and_links/work_sharing_abraham_houseman.pdf.
  • Implement a moratorium on debt collections for nonpayment of fines and fees, including but not limited to fines and fees related to rent, traffic violations, child support payments, medical debt, and restitution.
  • Require hazard pay and increased overtime pay (at a rate of an additional $2 an hour and double-pay for all overtime hours) that is contractually consistent with emergency/hazard pay for essential public and private workers, particularly grocery workers, sanitation workers, and Medicaid-funded work performed by frontline care workers such as personal care aides, home health aides, and patient care technicians, and workers at nursing facilities.
  • Ensure that state law fills any gaps in unemployment insurance expansion so workers, especially tipped and subminimum wage employees across the state, receive payment as soon as possible.
  • Allow workers to take COVID-related paid family medical leave for those who are ordered by a physician to self-quarantine, those who test positive, and those who take care of people in the first two categories. The state can use federal funding to seed the paid family leave fund.


Ensure Housing Security and Stability for Renters and Homeowners

  • Set forth a criminal penalty to deter illegal evictions conducted during the State of Emergency.
  • Suspend all transactions of rent for 90 days and provide financial relief to rental property owners who demonstrate financial hardship as a result of waived rent payments in the 90-day period.
  • Prohibit late fees and debt collection activities on rental and mortgage payments for one year following the conclusion of the ongoing crisis.
  • Require rental property owners and banks to offer interest-free payment plans with repayment options spanning up to three years for tenants to pay down any and all overdue rent and for homeowners to pay down any and all outstanding mortgage payments.
  • Increase emergency financial assistance funds and deploy funds to renters and homeowners under broader eligibility criteria and before owners/lenders resort to filing eviction or foreclosure actions.
  • Extend the eviction protections enumerated in the April 3rd Executive Order for at least 12 months after the State of Emergency is rescinded and require in all eviction actions for non-payment of rent both loss mitigation and mediation procedures as prerequisites to filing suit.
  • Prohibit rental property owners from foreclosing the tenant’s right of redemption for at least 12 months following the end of the State of Emergency.
  • Prohibit rent increases and lease terminations without just cause during the duration of the State of Emergency and 12 months thereafter and exclude non-payment of rent and other fees as a basis for lease termination if the renter’s inability to pay is related to the pandemic or the State of Emergency.
  • Direct all utility companies (including but not limited to water, gas, electric, internet, and cable) to broaden eligibility criteria for affordability programs and repayment plans to accommodate both short- and long-term impacts on income.


Need Based Cash/In Kind Assistance

  • Establish a moratorium on reductions, terminations, and collections of overpayments for need-based assistance (Temporary Cash Assistance (TANF), Food Stamps (SNAP), Temporary Disability Assistance (TDAP), including the recoupment relative to the TDAP and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
  • Suspend all redeterminations until the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, and extend eligibility periods for those with eligibility periods that are ending in the months during the State of Emergency.
  • Establish a moratorium on all work activity and job search requirements for these programs.


Childcare Services

  • Create an emergency child care fund to ensure the children of first responders, doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, and workers providing essential services for the community are cared for during this crisis.
  • Create an emergency fund that providers can access to hire additional child care.
  • This fund should also allow providers to pay their assistants and substitutes and fund paid sick leave for any employees that might fall ill.
  • Halt foreclosures and evictions for family child care homes
  • Compensate providers for subsidized children regardless of attendance, and suspend any termination of child care subsidies due to absences.
  • Subsidize internet services for distance-learning for school-aged children
  • Provide cleaning supplies for all child care centers that remain open, including hand sanitizer and bleach.
  • Ensure that all family child care providers and centers receive all personal protective equipment.
  • Allow all family child care providers to access any small business loans or grants that are offered by the state.


Ensure Safety of Incarcerated Individuals and Staff

The danger to incarcerated individuals of spreading disease is well-documented. We request the state to take the following actions immediately:

  • Reduce police presence and unnecessary arrests to shrink the jail population and avoid spreading the virus in state and local prisons, and release anyone being held on a violation of probation or parole hold.
  • Ensure non-custodial arrest processing to the maximum extent.
  • Provide housing and healthy food to recently released individuals.
  • Facilitate the immediate release of youth offenders on a case by case basis.
  • Ensure the non-criminalization and non-militarized enforcement of shelter-in-place regulations.
  • Incorporate robust medical analysis including COVID-19 testing and safety education centered in the intake process.
  • Incorporate testing for COVID-19 during the release process that does not require a referral from a primary care physician.
  • Test and provide treatment to all future detainees prior to fully detaining the individual; provide a complete waiver of medical co-pays and personal hygiene supply costs.
  • Ensure all call buttons in each cell are in working order and properly turned on.
  • Allow for donations of antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer to inmates across the state.
  • Ensure that video conferencing and necessary technologies are made available to courts to uphold individuals’ Constitutional rights and access to justice.
  • Perform an individualized assessment of current detainees and all individuals detained during the State of Emergency, and release all detainees who are immunocompromised, over 60 years of age, being held pre-trial, have misdemeanors or currently sentenced for under 12 months.
  • Ensure free phone calls and video visitation options for those who remain detained.


Immigration Enforcement and Detention

The impact of the COVID crisis is particularly felt in immigrant communities; many members of which continue to work in essential jobs and few of whom are eligible for any federal relief. It is critical to establish parameters through which the state can acknowledge that immigrants are members of the Maryland community and merit security for their families.

  • Cut off ICE access to databases such as MVA records, instead requiring a judicial warrant before sharing information.
  • Refuse to notify ICE regarding release information or transfer detainees from any jail in the state to ICE.
  • End cooperation with ICE at the Baltimore Jail.


Funding, Outreach and Shelter for Homeless Populations

Thousands of people are without homes in the state, meaning thousands are left without the adequate resources to prevent the transmission of the virus to themselves and others. We request the following:

  • Rapidly rehouse our vulnerable neighbors who frequent emergency shelters and homeless encampments in hotel rooms, permanent housing, and permanent supportive housing for those who choose.
  • Expand of intensified outreach and services to unsheltered individuals (including mobile public health staff to address screening, education and other support services).
  • Provide temporary rental assistance for homeless individuals and quickly seek out other options (vacant housing, hotel beds, etc).
  • Expand funding for any existing local or state voucher programs to cover acute housing needs for 18 months, minimum.
  • Commit state resources to eviction prevention following the ending of the State of Emergency, including emergency rental assistance and energy/utility assistance.
  • Implement full and immediate rent and mortgage forgiveness for all residents for six (6) months or until adequate and permanent assistance provisions are in place and readily accessible.


Protecting Our Vulnerable Students & Ensuring Equity in Our Schools

With students and families navigating distance learning during this uncertain time, inequities that existed before the COVID-19 crisis have not only persisted but have expanded. We ask that the state prioritize the follow items in efforts to mitigate inequalities during the state of emergency:

  • Ensure clear, direct and complete communication with students and families by prioritizing MSDE as an information repository for students and families.
  • Create an accessible feedback loop for students and families to share information about their needs, local best practices and other relevant information.
  • Ensure that all communication with students and families are in appropriate languages according to the needs of each school.
  • Mitigate exacerbated inequities for vulnerable populations by prioritizing dropout prevention efforts.
  • Guarantee access to educational materials, including technology and internet access for all students.
  • Innovate to meet the needs of the whole child by making short-term preparations to meet mental health needs exacerbated by COVID-19, with a particular focus on those who are sheltering-in-place in unsafe environments.
  • Coordinate additional supportive services for students who are in foster care, incarcerated, experience homelessness/housing instability, and other out of home placements.


Fair and Accessible 2020 Elections

As we continue to navigate protecting our community through this pandemic, we must not overlook the implications that COVID-19 will have for our democracy. We ask that the State take the following steps as soon as possible to ensure that our June and November elections are fair, protected, accessible, and accurate:

  • Provide all voters a multilingual ballot via mail with a paid postage return label.
  • Extend the voter registration deadline and mail voter registration forms with paid postage return labels to accommodate those without internet or other tools to register online.
  • Extend early voting periods and provide safe in-person voting centers.
  • Prepare for a vote-by-mail primary election with options for safe in-person voting centers, with early communication to voters.
  • Conduct a robust public education campaign for Marylanders via paid digital and broadcast media, text and phone alerts, and other methods to get the word out about the process.
  • Ensure that communities that may struggle with the new processes, particularly students, people with disabilities, the elderly and those without access to the internet, are educated and have assistance with voting by mail.


Discrimination Prevention and Data Collection

Historically, there have been many health disparities in communities of color. These disparities, along with our national leadership’s mischaracterizations of the virus, call for the following actions to be taken:

  • Ensure the collection and public reporting of COVID-19 related data based on race and ethnicity to allow for government officials and leading organizations to monitor any disparities as they arise.
  • Expand efforts to investigate and punish hate crimes and attacks on Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
  • Release clear statements from all state leadership condemning federal mischaracterization of the pandemic as a Chinese virus, clarifying with accurate information regarding the COVID-19.
  • Implement virtual education efforts to the public to prevent discrimination.


Relief Fund for Impacted Residents and Small Businesses

While the federal government has established relief funds to support small businesses and families, unfortunately many low wage residents will not be able to access these funds because of immigration restrictions or ineligibility for the specific benefit programs being augmented. The establishment of the State small business and non-profit emergency relief grant fund is a strong step toward providing relief, but there is still much more to be done to protect families. In the immediate term, some families are protected by the freeze on evictions and other housing loss methods, but as soon as those processes are reopened, poor families will be confronted with huge amounts of arrears that they simply will not immediately be able to pay.

We ask that the State establish an emergency fund to assist residents with payments critical to health, housing, and work connectivity, including car payments, cellphone, and internet. The State must be prepared for a deep financial commitment; even after residents are able to return to work, it will take low-income residents, particularly tipped and subminimum wage working residents, months or even years to recoup their lost earnings. Our government must implement every possible measure to protect them as well as the millions of Marylanders confronting extreme financial hardship.

The actions listed above are critical and essential to our collective efforts to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. If these steps are not taken with the utmost urgency, we could see Maryland contribute to the dramatic rise in deaths from this pandemic and exacerbate the rapidly increasing inequality that already exists in our state and counties. The most vulnerable community members in Maryland are depending on you. Please act without hesitation and take whatever executive action and legislative steps necessary to ensure the safety of all, including the vital steps outlined above.

Please contact Cathryn Paul with any questions or to follow up regarding these recommendations.


1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East
Advocates for Children and Youth
AFSCME Maryland Council 3
Bend the Arc Jewish Action – Prince George’s County
Centro de los Derechos del Migrante
Community Justice
Concerned Taxpayers
Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, US Provinces
Doctors for Camp Closure
Franciscan Action Network
Greenbelt People Power
Howard County Indivisibles
Hyattsville Mennonite Church
IMPACT Silver Spring
Indivisibile Howard County
Jews United for Justice
Job Opportunities Task Force
LiUNA Local 11
Maryland Center on Economic Policy
McFarland & Associates, Inc.
Montgomery County Racial Equity Network
Muslim Public Affairs Council
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
One Fair Wage
Our Revolution – Howard County
Peace and Justice Coalition of Prince George’s County
Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools
Progressive Maryland
Progressive Neighbors Steering Committee
Public Justice Center
Racial Justice NOW! DMV
RISE Coalition of Western Maryland
Sanctuary DMV
SEIU Local 500
Showing Up for Racial Justice Montgomery County
Silver Spring Justice Coalition
Sisterhood of Salam Shalom Takoma Park/Silver Spring
Takoma Park Mobilization
The Pluralism Project
Transit Immigrant Assistance Silver Spring
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400
Young People for Progress

As we look back now at 2020 and step into 2021, we continue to simultaneously advocate for policy prescriptions for emergency relief – including rent cancellation, food and cash assistance to all who need it, regardless of immigration status, free treatment and testing for all, and hazard pay and PPE for workers, to name a few – and to work with our allies to renew our push for previously existing priorities that took on increasing urgency since March 2020. Those being: $15/hour minimum wage, affordable healthcare for all, affordable housing and tenant protections, universal language access, and universal representation for immigrants in deportation proceedings. 

Solidarity Fund

In 2020, we have been delivering a range of critical frontline services and direct relief efforts, simultaneously continuing our traditional community capacity building and empowerment programming as immigrants and other communities of color have borne the brunt of COVID-19 impact.  While these communities have long felt the consequences of purposeful disinvestment at all levels of government – and while those consequences have always been a matter of survival for these community members, never have they been more stark than in the current crisis. Latinos and other immigrants are more likely than their counterparts to lack access to preventative care and have underlying health conditions, and work in front-facing essential services jobs.  Many now find themselves either unemployed or forced to work in conditions that may endanger their health and the health of their families.  These challenges are compounded by language and cultural barriers, coupled with a mistrust of government due to the hostility of the federal administration and experiences in their home countries.  Furthermore, the federal government specifically excluded large segments of the immigrant community from stimulus relief efforts, and long-standing negligence and irresponsible policies have also excluded many immigrants and communities of color from accessing vital health resources – a decision with massive repercussions in the current public health crisis.  

Foremost among our community’s needs in the early days of the pandemic and throughout this period of crisis has been direct cash assistance to help address their most immediate and basic necessities. Through our Solidarity Fund, community members receive financial support in the form of debit cards pre-loaded based on household size ($250 for households with 4 of fewer members and $500 for households with more than 4 members).  The cards can be used at local businesses to purchase essential goods such as food, medication and other necessities, which in turn helps support local businesses that largely employ residents of the community they serve.  To date we have distributed nearly $1.5M benefiting 11,900 people throughout our three-state footprint. 

Beneficiaries were largely selected from rosters developed at the early stages of the crisis and by community leaders themselves. CASA first compiled a list of individuals requesting assistance through CASA’s existing health and social services as well as families identified by community leaders active in CASA’s community organizing efforts. These individuals were then screened for eligibility for Solidarity Fund assistance, first by ensuring they were not eligible for other types of federal or local assistance made available due to the crisis and then asked to complete an application that would allow CASA to prioritize based on parameters set by CASA’s community oversight panel. Over 52% of recipient households reported experiencing at least multiple weeks without any income over the period and over 31% of households reported earning some limited income although unable to meet essential family needs. Through this process, applicants shared some aspects of hardships they were experiencing that would then inform funding decisions. In this manner, CASA was able to strategically target support in a manner that maximized impact.

Rapid Response to Dire Needs

CASA’s Food Access Program provides weekly grocery deliveries and case management support to low-income Montgomery County households experiencing food insecurity as a result of COVID-19.  While no one is immune to the effects of this global pandemic, immigrants are particularly vulnerable due to language and cultural barriers, coupled with a mistrust of government due to the hostility of the federal administration and experiences in their home countries.  Already scarce resources are now more limited and difficult to access.  Many Montgomery County immigrant residents find themselves unemployed and excluded from federal relief, and the already challenging task of obtaining affordable nutritious food for their families has become nearly impossible. 

These residents already rely upon CASA as both a trusted resource for addressing human needs through culturally and linguistically appropriate services and programs, and a leader in empowering disadvantaged community members to work for systemic solutions – and over the past months, their priorities have shifted to meeting their most basic needs, such as access to food and shelter.  Through our health and social services hotline, we field hundreds of calls every day – many from residents seeking food assistance.  To date we have enrolled 430 Montgomery County households in our Food Access Program, and we receive 25-30 additional calls per day from residents seeking assistance.  We also accept referrals from our partners.  Our program also aims to provide a source of income for members who utilize our Welcome Centers for employment by hiring them to help sort and pack grocery boxes.  Community members serve as Packing Marshalls and are paid $15-$20 per hour for up to 4 hours per day.  Furthermore, our Food Access Program is set apart from others because it includes case management to assess barriers families are facing and provide additional direct assistance, navigation support, and referrals.

To launch our program, we obtained 1,500 boxes from the Capital Area Food Bank for three weeks of food deliveries.  We are also receiving donations from community members and local businesses such as MegaMart and working with distributors to obtain food staples for two weeks of deliveries.  Additionally, we have received many requests for corn flour and cooking oil, and would like to add a monthly delivery of these items.

Vaccine Trials

As the extremely welcome news of the development of a covid-19 vaccine spread, CASA’s staff knew we had a vital role to play. Not only did our health and communications teams need to do the difficult work of understanding the vaccine and process and effectively communicating that to a community with an understandable distrust of government and large pharmaceutical companies, but so too would our organizing and advocacy efforts need to be focused on ensuring a fair, equitable, and efficient distribution of this vaccine to all people.

As part of these efforts, CASA and the University of Maryland School of Medicine partnered up to administer COVID-19 vaccine trials to communities historically underrepresented in public health research, including Latino and Black communities. The vaccine trials focused on recruiting diverse participants based on the culturally competent design of the study. 

To accommodate this work, parts of the Multicultural Center, CASA’s Hyattsville office and headquarters, have been transformed into a medical clinic to run the vaccine trials. In Langley Park, a hotspot for COVID-19, a team of 15+ health promoters is on the ground, educating and recruiting at laundromats, bus stops, supermarkets, farmers markets, and other places highly frequented by the Black and brown community. Similarly, a team of Community Health Workers in Baltimore is leading CASA’s efforts there in engaging and incentivizing Black and brown community participation in the trials.

“The COVID-19 vaccine trials must include communities of color who have been the most affected by the virus,” said George Escobar, CASA’s Chief of Programs and Services. “After serving selflessly on the frontlines, our communities deserve the best medicine science can offer. Excluding our communities could mean experiencing side effects when the vaccines are publicly available. This is one of the best tools that we have to fight the pandemic. I am participating in the trial myself and got vaccinated in late August.”

“We are looking to conduct the highest quality research that includes a diverse group of people,” said Karen Kotloff, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the principal investigator for the school of medicine’s COVID-19 vaccine trials.

“We are looking to conduct the highest quality research that includes a diverse group of people,” said Karen Kotloff, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the principal investigator for the school of medicine’s COVID-19 vaccine trials.

 “This virus is not democratic. We know that it has impacted minority populations the most and we want to ensure that any research we conduct will help these communities. If the coronavirus is affecting these communities at a disproportionately higher rate, they undeniably need a vaccine that will work for them. Collaborating with CASA allows us to reach out to these communities and let them be participants in the process for a COVID-19 vaccine.”

Cancel the Rent

By the early summer, it was clear that not only was the COVID-19 pandemic not ending any time soon, but that the combination of the massive health and economic crises with the complete failure of the federal government to support the immigrant and working class community during the pandemic was producing another looming crisis: an eviction wave that would devastate families across the country. The crisis exacerbated the underlying inequality in our society, bringing more than 40 million families to the brink of eviction, with a national CNBC poll revealing that more than half of Hispanic renters had “little to no confidence they could stay in their homes”.
At the outset of the crisis, CASA immediately launched local, state, and federal advocacy efforts including demand letters sent to local and state governments which implored elected officials to do everything they could to make up for the federal government’s inaction for the immigrant community by providing relief. Prominent in this package of demands for justice was one loud and clear demand for housing relief: CANCELAR LA RENTA!

Tenant Solidarity

Though we did not and will not ever stop petitioning our elected representatives to provide public support for all in our communities, we also recognize that we can build and leverage power in our communities beyond courtrooms and the halls of political power. A stunning example of that power came in the form of a courageous display of radical solidarity from our members at one Maryland apartment complex in the form of a successful rent strike!

A rent strike is traditionally regarded by even seasoned activists as an extreme risk to take because of the precarious position in which it puts renters – fail to achieve a critical mass of solidarity or convince your landlords to take action, and families face eviction and homelessness. However, when the 115-family strong CASA-organized tenant committee met to discuss their options with the crisis looming and management seeking back rents, they made the courageous decision to strike if their demands were not met. Their courage was rewarded…

After threatening to strike, the tenants won critical concessions at the next round of negotiation, not only extending an eviction ban so no family would be thrown out on the street, but also allowing affordable payment plans for those with unpaid back rent and creating a renter-assistance fund worth millions of dollars for those renters having trouble making ends meet. This incredible victory not only showed the power our members can have when they come together, but also provided a useful model and case study for future tenant organizing at CASA!

Our members, emboldened by the success of their organizing, have begun to form tenant committees across our turf, and we look forward to sharing many more stories of people power.

United in Crisis

Say Their Names

While the COVID-19 pandemic has been a new and devastating crisis that has impacted people across the country, the other crisis that defined this year was one that has been ongoing for generations - the constant and violent crisis of systemic racism in the United States.

Past Reports