Pennsylvania Organizations Band Together Demanding State Protect Immigrants and Communities of Color from Coronavirus

Pennsylvania Organizations Band Together Demanding State Protect Immigrants and Communities of Color from Coronavirus

April 27, 2020, YORK, PA – Immigrant rights organization CASA and 11 organizations call on Governor Tom Wolf and Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman to urgently provide protections for Black and Latino residents who are immigrants, workers, incarcerated, and at-risk of losing their homes. These state-wide organizations, which represent hundreds of thousands of immigrant and working families across Pennsylvania, sent a letter outlining the demands. Letter available below.

“In Pennsylvania, while we cannot calculate [the complete impact on communities of color] yet due to the absence of accurate data, we know that immigrant, Black and brown workers are carrying the brunt of “essential workforce” with little to no protection or resources,” read the letter.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, COVID-19 is killing Black and Latino Americans at disproportionately high rates. For instance, in the City of York more than 70% of confirmed coronavirus cases are Latinos, pointing to systemic and structural failures that must urgently be corrected.

Specifically, the organizations demand:

  • Justice for housing insecure and homeless populations,
  • A robust reduction of incarceration, including closing the Berks County Family Detention Center,
  • An expansion of protections for workers as well as health care access, including for immigrants,
  • Support for students and families in our K-12 system,
  • Fair elections,
  • Strategies to prevent existing structural and systemic discrimination, and
  • Emergency relief funds to assist struggling Pensylvianians and help forestall or anticipate a catastrophic recession.

“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,” read the letter.

Read the full letter below.

April 27, 2020

Governor Tom Wolf
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Office of the Governor
508 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120

Dear Governor Wolf:

We, the undersigned non-profit organizations and unions, appreciate your efforts so far inresponse to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly your executive orders to prevent the spread of the virus and protect Pennsylvanians from utility shut-offs and late-fees. Our state-wide organizations represent hundreds of thousands of immigrant and working families across Pennsylvania. 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. It is clear, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that COVID-19 is killing black and Latino Americans at disproportionately high rates. In Pennsylvania, while we cannot calculate this yet due to the absence of accurate data, we know that immigrant, black and brown workers are carrying the brunt of “essential workforce” with little to no protection or resources. For instance, in the City of York, one of only ten cities with a Health Bureau in the state, Latinos and African Americans comprise 88% of the cases reported, when they represent 33% and 25% of the city’s population, respectively. In Philadelphia black and brown individuals are dying at higher rates.

In light of the uncertainty and rapidly-changing nature of this pandemic, we call on you to 1) require landlords and banks to ensure housing justice, 2) robustly reduce incarceration, including closing the Berks County Family Detention Center, 3) expand protections for workers, including immigrants, 4) expand healthcare access to all affected by the pandemic, including immigrants, 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 Pensylvianians and help forestall or anticipate a catastrophic recession.

We also call on you to advocate for our state with Pennsylvania’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.

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.

● Propose an Executive Order that provides eviction protections for every tenant in Pennsylvania 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 rent increases and lease terminations without just cause for 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.

● 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 Pennsylvania community and merit security for their families.

● Issue an ERO to close the Berks County Immigration Family Detention Center

● Cut off ICE access to databases such as DMV 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.

● Urge county officials to end contracts with ICE at the York County Prison, Pike County Correctional Facility, and Berks County Family Detention Center.

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 Pennsylvanians 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 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. 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 Pennsylvanian workers are protected physically and economically, and urge you to take the following actions:

● 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.

● 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”), Pennsylvania 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.

● 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.

Funding, Outreach and Shelter for Homeless Populations

Tens of thousands of people are without homes in the state, meaning they 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 PDE 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.

● 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 Pennsylvanians 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.

● 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 Pennsylvanians 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 Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania 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 Thaís Carrero at tcarrero@wearecasa.org with any questions or to follow up regarding these recommendations.

Sincerely,
CASA
Casa San Jose
Center for Coalfield Justice
Just Community Energy Transition Project
Make The Road PA
One Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center
Pennsylvania Council of Churches
Pennsylvania Stands Up
Pittsburgh United
POWER
Woori Center

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