A People-Centered Response to COVID-19 Public Health Emergency
No matter what we look like, where we live, or what’s in our wallets, this critical moment in history reminds us that we’re all human. We are all connected, and our fates are tied together. Without question, the way we pull through this pandemic and economic crisis is together, or not at all.
But for too long, we’ve let a powerful few divide us to pad their own profits by dismantling social policies and systematically attacking democratic structures from labor unions to voting rights. Their greed has led us directly into the crisis we are all facing now, where millions of Americans don’t have the healthcare they need to get well, the time off to stay home, or the wealth to survive an economic downturn. We’ve watched as politicians bankrolled by corporations have divided us by scapegoating immigrants and people of color, keeping us distracted while they dismantled our social safety nets that we had collectively built.
Most of the communities hit hardest by COVID-19 and the economic fallout coming will be hourly workers who are losing pay, people in the service, care, and hospitality industries, temp workers, small business owners, gig economy workers, new immigrants, and other fields dominated by women and people of color. Our system has never worked for all of our communities, and now is our chance to fix that.
And for those of us who have been able to get by in this system, the cracks are showing as well. Corporations dictate who does and does not get to stay home, who does or does not get paid time off, based on what makes the most profit, regardless of common sense, compassion, and responsibility to our shared health.
After Wall Street caused the 2008 global recession and was bailed out by the public, wealth and power have been further concentrated by the 1% into the hands of the few.
Enough is enough.
It’s time to come together across our differences of race, place, and class, like we’ve done in the past. Minnesotans rebounded from the Great Depressions, World War II and the Great Recession. But gains we made have never been equal and our current crisis is hitting certain communities harder than others because of decades of coordinated corporate greed.
In the face of a global pandemic and economic crisis, we must take emergency action to ensure our families can survive, and also work to evolve our corrupt and morally bankrupt system so all families – no matter our race, job, immigration status, gender, disability status, zip code, religion – can thrive, not just survive. It is time to fundamentally re-write the rules, recognizing that when we center those of us most impacted by inequities, it makes us all stronger.
As we work together to survive this pandemic, we must also recognize that now is the time to build a system where we take care of everyone, not just corporations and the rich. There can be no “back to normal” if that normal is defined by the greedy and powerful few. We will rebound strongest when regular Minnesotans come together across our differences and can define and create a better shared future for all of us.
We can build a fair and comprehensive healthcare system that treats us all as we need to be treated and ensures we can stay well. We can ensure that every job has the healthcare, wages and benefits that support joyful lives for our families, and put time with our loved ones back at the center of our lives. We can make sure that every person who wants to put down roots in a home that they’re proud of is able to do so, in a healthy state and on a healthy planet that’s a beautiful home for ourselves and future generations. We can have not only survival, but a joyful future where everyone can live safe, happy and healthy lives.
This pandemic has laid bare that we must rewrite the rules to ensure every person – no exceptions – can thrive. We must address short-term issues facing our families, but also recognize this moment as a chance to change our system that has left so many of us behind while a small group have hoarded an amount of wealth that could ensure broad prosperity.
This is a moment that we must stand with and for each other across our differences and against anything and anyone who seeks to divide us.
Our organizations make the following demands on local, state and federal government leaders to enact in both the short-term to make our state a place where everyone can thrive.
Health Care Access for All
Make Health Care Safe and Accessible for Everyone, No Exception
We are all tied together and everyone’s life and health matters. Every Minnesotan, regardless of race, religion, or immigration status needs to trust that they can get care safely - no exception. Minnesotans who are undocumented immigrants must be fully included in all measures to ensure access to health care and encouraged to seek coverage and care through Emergency Medical Assistance for COVID testing and treatment without fear of discrimination or persecution.
Ensure People Can Access Public Health Insurance Programs
This pandemic has highlighted again how everyone needs access to health care. We must expand tools like the presumptive eligibility program, ramp up MNsure Navigators, relax unworkable rules requiring signatures and paperwork that cannot be safely obtained during this time, and allow families whose employer coverage is unaffordable to access MinnesotaCare.
Require Large Employers to Provide Health Insurance
Employers in sectors that are booming should be required to provide quality health insurance to all workers immediately, regardless of classification, including seasonal, hourly, and temporary employees. Waiting periods for coverage must be waived during this health emergency.
Fully Cover COVID-19 Care and Treatment
Health plans must cover care and treatment for COVID-19 cases and symptoms with no cost-sharing or deductibles. This care should not be dependent on a positive COVID-19 test, since those tests are not available to the majority of patients, and uncertainty about whether care would be covered would discourage people from seeking care.
Provide Relief to Minnesotans in the Private Health Insurance Market
No matter who we are or where in the state we live, every Minnesotan deserves the security that comes with knowing they can get the care they need. Yet thousands in the individual and small group market are in high deductible plans that they cannot afford to use. We cannot have them avoid testing and treatment, while growing sicker and infecting others, and should subsidize premiums and cost-sharing.
Provide Emergency Funds for Disability Support Workers
Every Minnesotan, regardless of zip code, age, or disability status, must be able to take the steps they need to keep themselves safe, and slow the spread of COVID-19 for all Minnesotans. But, pressures from the outbreak are straining the existing system of supports for people with disabilities that would allow them to remain safely in their homes and participate in social distancing. These pressures include the existing workforce shortage, worker illness and self-quarantine, missed service days for client illness and quarantine, and additional health care precautions needed for people who are vulnerable to illness. An immediate increase in the personal care assistance reimbursement rate is needed to accommodate these pressures, providing homecare workers with overtime wages and paid leave, as well as personal protective equipment and other necessary supplies.
Ensure that Medicine is Affordable
Each and every person in our state - whether Black, white, Latino, Asian, native, or newcomer - needs to be able to get the medicines that allow them to live their lives. But drugs don’t work when Big Pharma sets prices out of reach of regular Minnesotans. The legislature must finish the emergency insulin bill, stop prescription drug price-gouging, and ensure that any vaccine or treatments for COVID-19 are affordable and fully covered by insurance.
Affording Our Lives
Provide Immediate Financial Support for Those Falling through the Cracks
With school closures and the community transmission of COVID-19, workers need the ability to apply the important practice of social distancing by staying home when they are sick or to care for a family member who is sick or lacks care. Unfortunately, too many families are falling through the holes in the federal and state social safety nets meant to help us weather this pandemic, including enhancements to Unemployment Insurance, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and the CARES Act. People who have been forced to work in the cash economy and undocumented people are just some of those being excluded from these policies. The state must ensure that all families are able to access the resources they need to survive loss to their wages and benefits during this pandemic.
Establish Local Emergency Funds to Support Those Most in Need
This pandemic has reminded us how much we depend on each other, whether we’re white, black, Latino, Asian, Native American or newcomers. We are also calling on municipalities and counties to fill in these gaps by establishing emergency funds that are available specifically to those who have fallen through the holes in the federal and state social safety nets, accessible without a heavy burden of bureaucracy that prevents vulnerable communities from receiving the aid they need.
Continue Paying Hourly School District Workers
Hourly school employees care for our students every day, whether as paraeducators, bus drivers or food service workers, yet they are the hardest hit during school closures as they lose the income they need to survive. As school districts continue to receive the same levels of state funding during this crisis, they must not be allowed to force hourly school workers, who are more likely to be people of color, to lose their paychecks while school buildings are closed.
Give All Workers Paid Time to Care for Themselves and Their Families
Every person living in our state – no matter our race, gender or zip code –should be able to take care of themselves and their loved ones when they're sick. All workers need access to emergency paid leave during this pandemic that is on top of existing paid-time off benefits and that does not accumulate points under an attendance policy, and going forward, all workers need access to Earned Sick and Safe Time on an ongoing basis to prevent the spread of disease and ensure a healthy and strong community going forward.
Ensure Paid Family and Medical Leave for All Workers
All Minnesotans deserve the time to care for themselves or a loved one - whether it's holding a new baby, caring for an aging parent, or coping with a serious health issue. To address possible long-term ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, all workers should have Paid Family and Medical Leave.
Increase the Minimum Wage at the MSP Airport
As the COVID-19 pandemic shows that it has always been regular, everyday Minnesotans keeping our state running, it's more clear than ever that every person should earn wages that allow us to live, not just survive. The workers keeping our airports clean, safe, and well-running have always been essential. The work started by the Metropolitan Airports Commission to ensure that all workers at the Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport earn $15 an hour must continue so as to ensure implementation by July 1, 2020.
Stop Employer Fraud
Workers in many sectors are intentionally misclassified by employers to avoid paying taxes and benefits, and these workers will not get access to needed benefits during this crisis. Minnesota must implement a clearer employment standard that assumes a worker is an employee unless clear criteria are met, similar to the 3-part test implemented in California.
Increase Support for Organizations Helping to Enforce Labor Laws
As always, people are relying on our communities for support. This pandemic has been especially hard on workers already making low wages, including those in food-service, construction, and distribution. Many of these workers are now facing even worse situations, as some corporations use this pandemic as an excuse to treat their employees even worse. The COVID-19 crisis, on top of existing wage theft, means that workers are relying more heavily on the organizations that support them. The City of Minneapolis and the state must increase their support for these organizations to hold employers accountable for wage theft and other violations of labor law. Employers cannot be allowed to use this crisis to ignore basic labor protections.
Incentivize Worker-Owned Cooperatives
We know what is best for our families. As employers are choosing to lay off record numbers of workers, it is more important than ever that workers have a strong voice in their workplace. A key means of accomplishing this is to increase support for worker-owned cooperatives through targeted, low-interest loans and emergency relief grants. And as employers choose whether to close or sell their businesses, it is important that the tax system incentivize selling to worker-owned cooperatives, including through the forgiveness of taxes on or earnings from such a sale.
Housing as Health Care
Provide a Future Free from Debt
From Red Lake to Red Wing, and Saint Paul to Saint Peter, Minnesotans need good housing - and they don’t need the additional debt that can accrue in this time of crisis. Immediately cancel rent and utility payments, and require mortgage forebearance for the duration of the public health crisis and a sufficient recovery period, and pass at least $100 million dollars for the Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program (FHPAP), which will provide short term rental assistance to thousands of families.
Pass Tenant Rights and Protections
In this pandemic and aftermath, our ability to stay housed directly correlates to our ability to stay healthy. Therefore, we need to increase tenant protections by stopping late fees, expunging all evictions, ending showings of occupied units by landlords, allowing tenants to break leases without penalty, stopping predatory rent increases, ending landlord retaliation, and lifting the ban on Rent Control for cities and counties.
Invest in Housing as Infrastructure
During major economic downturns like the one we are experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more important to invest in infrastructure to create jobs and keep the economy moving. These investments must include housing that is permanently affordable and democratically controlled. Housing construction will address the critical lack of the affordable housing needed to social distance, and ensure good jobs for those construction workers in the more precarious and exploited area of residential construction.
Halt All Utility Shutoffs and Order Reconnections
Every Minnesotan, regardless of zip code, relies on essential services like electricity, phone, internet, water, and gas in order to live our lives. In this time of crisis, recommendations to utility providers to voluntarily halt shutoffs are not enough. Utility providers are not rising to the challenge. Action must be taken to ensure that all Minnesotans - no exception - have access to needed utilities during the COVID-19 crisis. Minnesotans can’t wait.
Safety in our Workplaces
Provide Proper Equipment to Protect Workers
The workers on the front line of caring for our communities need the personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect themselves and others from contracting and spreading COVID-19. Hospitals should be required to provide, at the least, N-95 respirators for all health care workers. Home care workers interacting with COVID-19 positive clients unable to seek outside medical care should also be provided with appropriate PPE. And workers risking exposure and transmission while providing essential services like food service and food processing, janitorial, retail, and distribution need adequate protections and supplies to do their jobs safely. This will require the State to advance manufacturing of necessary equipment and instruct all healthcare providers statewide to share equipment and information with each other and their frontline staff to ensure that resources are available where needed.
Protect Vulnerable Workers and Family Members
Every Minnesotan – no matter our job – should be able to know they will come home safely from work. Frontline workers are putting themselves at risk as they care for and protect the broader community. But those workers who are part of a high-risk population must be granted work accommodations to avoid exposure, and those with vulnerable family members who are caring for COVID+ and COVID rule-out patients also need accommodations, such as on-site showers, employer issued scrubs, and temporary housing, so as not to infect those high-risk loved ones.
Protect Workers Who Follow COVID Guidance
Employers have a duty to protect both their workers and the public, and in these extraordinary times, it is critical that workers have the necessary time to wash their hands and sanitize work areas. To the extent that protection of life and safety conflicts with production quotas, those quotas must be relaxed. Employers need to follow the most stringent recommendations to protect workers, such as CDC and MDH guidance. Workers must be assured they will not be subject to retaliation or retribution for engaging in measures that protect their health and safety as well as that of the public, and that this pandemic will not be used to reduce existing labor standards.
Require Healthcare Employers to Take Every Effort to Slow the Spread of Infection
The actions of healthcare employers have an enormous impact on the spread of COVID-19, and they must be required to do everything they can to slow it, including no mixed assignments for healthcare workers, adequate isolation rooms, limited visitor policies, universal PPE usage, engineering controls, upstaffing units with COVID+ and COVID rule-out patients, and orientation rather than furloughs to prepare all healthcare workers to be prepared for any possible surge of COVID+ patients.
Farm and Food Security
Stop Farm Foreclosures
Farmers are a critical part of Minnesota’s food system, but agricultural policy designed to advantage mega-corporations over family farms has created a wave of foreclosures for small and medium sized farms. Current restrictions to help address the current COVID-19 pandemic make meaningful advocacy in farm foreclosure mediation sessions impossible. It is crucial to place a freeze on farm foreclosures and to pause legal deadlines in ongoing mediation for the duration of the Emergency Declaration.
Invest in Community-based Food Systems
This time of crisis has highlighted the importance of food security, and our current policies that benefit large, corporate agribusinesses over farmers, farmworkers, and the land puts our food security at risk. To ensure all Minnesotans, whether Black, white, Latino, Asian, native, or newcomer, can feed their families safe, healthy food, we need to invest in the food and farming systems that care for people and the land. This includes public funding for the development of local and regional food processing, storage and transportation that meets the changing needs of small- and mid-sized farms and people seeking local nutritious food, investing in high-density human farming operations, including Community Supported Agriculture farms, community gardens, and market growers. Additionally, we need to install effective COVID-19 infrastructure and protocols that will allow people to grow, harvest, sell and deliver food safely, and open up city-owned lands for COVID-safe community gardening, with investment from the state to provide the sanitation supplies and infrastructure required.
Suspend Mega Dairy Expansions
Small and mid-sized dairy farms were already in crisis before the pandemic hit, with 300 family farms being forced out of business last year and hundreds more teetering on the brink of insolvency. The pandemic has made everything worse by disrupting markets, choking the supply chain and driving down prices. Allowing the expansion of the very largest factory farms during this crisis will create an even greater glut of milk, driving even more farmers out of business and hurting rural economies. During the Farm and Covid-19 crisis, Minnesota should not issue permits for the construction of any dairy operation over 1,000 animal units.
Provide Emergency Farm Income
Because of food and agriculture policy that mostly benefits mega-corporate agriculture, farmers were already in a financial crisis before the COVID-19 pandemic. They need a living income so they can plant crops, grow food and raise livestock. Funding should also be available for farmers and growers who are planting or have planted, but whose markets (restaurants, farmers markets, etc.) may not be operating in the coming months. Farmers should receive emergency assistance to cover financial losses due to COVID, and the loss of crop and livestock income, at a fair price, should be made eligible for unemployment support. Additionally, there should be an immediate release of operating funds, so farmers can plant, raise livestock and care for the land and not be forced out of business by the pandemic.
Provide Specialty Crop Farmers with Farm Business Instructors Who Understand Their Businesses
Whether in Ramsey County or Renville County, North Minneapolis or North Mankato, Minnesota's farmers help feed our state. As emergency financial assistance programs become available to counter the effects of COVID-19, we need assurance that small specialty-crop farmers have access to qualified individuals that can help them navigate the complexities of these programs. Without proper help, many small specialty crop farmers will not have the ability to access these much-needed funds. Whether white, Black, Latino, Asian, Native American or newcomers, we must ensure that support goes to the growers who most need it.
Allow All Voters to Vote-by-Mail
In Minnesota we believe that all of our voices matter and need to be heard. The need for social distancing has caused numerous states to postpone their Primary Elections, and the likelihood that these requirements could continue or renew around the November Election means that all voters need the choice to Vote-by-Mail. This will require strengthening our existing no-excuse absentee system with increased funding, allowing all ballots to be counted that are post-marked by election day, rather than just those received by Election Day, improving ballot access for those with P.O. Boxes who are unable to receive their mail at their home, accomodations for voters with disabilities, and pre-paid return postage.
Strengthen Online Voter Registration
We also must strengthen the option to register voters online to maintain social distancing, including the funding and development of an API to allow for community voter registration efforts using the online voter registration platform, requiring state agencies to follow state law and provide voter registration to all clients and staff, while also determining how to register voters as they provide services remotely.
Free Them All
Humanize and Decarcerate Minnesota's Incarcerated
Every person living in Minnesota deserves to have their humanity respected, and this moment makes it clear that each and every person's well-being is intertwined. But prisons, jails, and ICE detention were all created with violence and repression in mind, not respect, public health or safety, and these crowded facilities are at high risk for rapid COVID-19 transmission. As such, the state must act to reduce the population of prisons and ICE detention to a point where no one with health risks is trapped inside and where social distancing is possible without limiting safe person-to-person interaction. This should be accomplished by releasing people from incarceration with health risks, people close to release dates, people held on civil immigration violations, and people held on technical violations, including ending the revocation of parole for technical violations.
Stop Holding People on Unaffordable Cash Bail
With the health of Minnesota’s communities at stake, we need to ensure our shared well-being, no matter who we are or where we come from. It’s time to end exploitative practices that lock people up in dangerously close quarters. County and Local Governments need to suspend arrests while releasing and ceasing to incarcerate people based on unaffordable cash bail, and should cease all contracts, informal cooperation, and information-sharing with ICE.
Allow All Essential Workers to Apply for a Driver’s License
In a time when everyone living in Minnesota needs each other, each of us needs to be able to contribute all we can to our communities. During this crisis, essential workers in critical sectors need to be able to travel to work, but reductions in transit service and adjustments to hours of work make it difficult for many essential workers to get to work safely to provide these critical services, while requirements for documentation unrelated to driving qualifications keep many from being able to access a driver’s license. All workers in sectors deemed “critical” during this Peacetime Emergency need access to a non-REAL ID driver’s license, regardless of immigration status.