Maryland COVID-19 Demand Letter

Maryland COVID-19 Demand Letter

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.

Sincerely,

1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East
32BJ SEIU
Advocates for Children and Youth
AFSCME Maryland Council 3
Bend the Arc Jewish Action – Prince George’s County
CASA
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
UNITE HERE Local 7
UNITE HERE Local 25
Young People for Progress

 

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