Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a global pandemic that requires thoughtful, swift, and immediate action from our federal, state, and local elected officials in order to protect working-class families. The needs of communities of color and low-income and immigrant communities must be centered as strides are made to safeguard our economy. Our communities are likely to suffer consequences both from COVID-19 and the fallout from a weakened economy.
Without unprecedented policy initiatives that center the livelihoods of low-income and immigrant families and families of color, increasing infection cases will continue to highlight the inequities that persist in our social safety-net programs, health systems, and financial markets in this moment of great uncertainty.
Nationally, people of color and low-income individuals experience higher mortality rates for various diseases; these health outcomes have been linked to factors including household incomes, quality of care, racial discrimination, and environmental circumstances.
There are additional challenges that are specific to the immigrant community -- which makes up 14 percent of the United States’ population according to 2018 American Community Survey data. This population is diverse and includes individuals that are naturalized citizens, lawfully present immigrants, and undocumented immingrants. Many immigrants live in mixed-status households. Lawfully present immigrants and undocumented immigrants face many barriers that prevent them from getting access to health coverage or dissuade them from seeking health services they need, such as changes to public charge rules, eligibility restrictions, or fear of deportation. Given these many challenges, it is not surprising that lawfully present immigrants and undocumented immigrants are significantly more likely than citizens to be uninsured.
COVID-19 may also have an impact on our state’s workforce and economy. Job loss in Virginia, due to COVID, is estimated to be nearly 135,000 by this summer. The financial security of low-wage workers of color is critical during this public health emergency because workers of color are more likely to earn poverty-level wages than white workers and are more likely to be negatively impacted by interruptions in the workplace or medically related absences.
COVID-19 has drastically changed how businesses and institutions such as hospitals, schools, courts, and other governmental agencies operate, creating new problems that families must urgently solve among normal day-to-day challenges.
When making critical decisions during this pandemic and beyond, federal, state, and local government officials must consider how both race, class, and immigration status shape differences in health outcomes and economic opportunities.
Below is a list of federal, state, and local policy demands based on the needs of our members, concerns from communities we organize in year-round, and best practices, research, and policy recommendations from members of Congress and national partners such as Center of Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) and the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
Progressive federal policy proposals provide hope for addressing the unique circumstances of low-income communities and communities of color as this pandemic continues.
On Thursday March 18th, letters issued by Senator Elizabeth Warren, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Senator Jeffery Merkley, and Senator Bernard Sanders recommended moratoriums on evictions for renters, and a letter issued by Congresswoman Maxine Waters proposed monthly cash assistance for families, customer debt protections, increased fair housing enforcement, funding for the production of medical supplies, and more.
New Virginia Majority supports these recommendations and calls on Virginia’s congressional delegation to support the equitable, expansive, and timely provisions in these proposals.
We also demand further policy action at the federal level that strengthens our social-safety net programs and ensures more individuals have access to needed health services. These demands include:
- Change Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) guidance on COVID-19 to mandatory policies and procedures; ICE should instruct each facility on how to implement the policies and procedures, ensure that there is congressional oversight and accountability, and the policies and procedures should be easily accessible to the public.
- Expand access to unemployment insurance so more workers can qualify in the event of an economic downturn and a rise in unemployment.
- Protect the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from funding cuts and increase benefit amounts.
- Increase the Medicaid expansion match rate to 100 percent for the duration of the public health emergency. This may free up additional resources state’s can use to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Broaden access to emergency Medicaid coverage for the duration of the public health emergency so states can help more low-income residents get needed COVID-19 related care, regardless of their immigration status.
- Provide additional direct aid to strengthen state and local budgets ahead of a potential economic downturn. This funding should be flexible so the state and localities can allocate additional resources to community-based organizations that provide essential health and financial assistance to individuals, regardless of their immigration status.
- Require states to halt work search/reporting requirements for social safety net programs during the public health emergency.
- Extend paid sick days and paid family and medical leave to workers excluded from the Families First Coronavirus Act.
State and Local Demands
At the state-level, through Executive Order 51, Governor Northam called for measures that will stop new eviction court proceedings and utility service disconnections, provide access to unemployment benefits for affected workers, and prioritize vulnerable populations (the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions).
We commend the Governor's efforts to address the initial concerns regarding the COVID-19 crisis and urge him to stay vigilant and to continue to listen to the community’s needs as we move through the course of the crisis. As the situation evolves we expect continued efforts to address community concerns and prevent disproportionate impacts on vulnerable communities.
Additionally, President Donald Trump has and continues to use racist and xenophobic rhetoric during this moment of crisis that is harmful and dehumanizing towards Asian immigrants and citzens of Asian decent. We encourage Governor Northam, in collaboration with Dr. Janice Underwood, Virginia’s Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, to reaffirm that our commonwealth values and appreciates all that call Virginia home.
We also demand further policy actions in Virginia that center working-class people of color and guarantee equitable treatment to all regardless of race, ethnicity, income status, or immigration status during this public health emergency. These demands include:
Provide equitable access to aid, medical care, and treatments related to the viral outbreak.
- Utilize all federal and state mechanisms to ensure that Virginia has the resources needed for COVID-19 prevention, testing, and treatment.
- Provide those with little or no health insurance access to healthcare facilities and reliable medical services that are affordable, culturally-sensitive, and are considerate of language accessibility.
- Encourage insurers and providers to waive costs associated with COVID-19 testing and diagnostics.
- Ensure all requests for aid, supplies, and essential services are treated with a high level of seriousness.
- Ensure that all state and local correctional and detention facilities create medical and sanitation plans and those plans are implemented, enforced, and shared with the public.
- Coordinate with appropriate judicial officers to identify and release pre-trial detainees on personal recognizance, especially pre-trial detainees in high-risk populations, if they do not pose a significant public safety or health risk.
- Coordinate with appropriate judicial officers to identify and release low-level offenders, especially low-level offenders who are in high-risk populations, who do not pose a significant public safety or health risk.
- Enforce orders against court proceedings so immigrants can seek out essential aid and medical services without discrimination or fear of their or their family member’s immigration status being reported to immigration authorities.
Consider the daily economic circumstances of Virginia’s working-class in the disbursement of emergency funding and implementation of emergency services.
- Prohibit the imposition of late fees on utility and rent payments and extend the order for non-emergency, non-essential court proceedings.
- Encourage the Virginia Apartment Management Association (VAMA), the Northern Virginia Apartment Association (NVAA), and other private rental and property owner associations across the state to ask their members to suspend eviction proceedings on rental homes, provide rental payment deferral options, and stop issuing late fees.
- Provide worker protections, such as supplemental economic support, to low-wage workers and low-income families who may have to make economic sacrifices to pay for medical expenses, energy costs, child care, and additional food and water.
- Develop guidelines and services for families who are seeking child care options, who are not currently eligible for state-funded subsidies, and continue offering financial incentives to child care providers to maintain service affordability and meet demand during extended school closures.
- Ensure children who depend on free school meals continue to have access to proper nutrition during public schools closures and have the necessary supplies and technology to fulfill their course requirements as needed.
Protecting State-Level Progressive Policy Wins
We are in uncertain times as the full extent of COVID-19’s impact has yet to be seen. However, it is important that this outbreak does not deter Virginia away from progress. We urge our elected leaders to stand firm in their commitment to progress even in the midst of uncertainty. The General Assembly passed and funded many important bills this session. These policies must be protected and implemented without delay to continue Virginia's progress forward. Some of these include:
- A path to a minimum wage of $15 per hour by 2026.
- Undocumented Virginians will be legally able to drive, enabling them to travel to work, take their children to school, or go to the doctor.
- Staffing ratios for school counselors will be improved, K-12 school meal debts will be reduced, and funding will be expanded for the At-Risk Add-On.
- Undocumented students and students with refugee status were given the right to pay in-state tuition in Virginia public colleges and universities.
- Healthcare standards were improved, as the minimum range of covered benefits was expanded and discrimination on the basis of pre-existing conditions, pregnancy, and gender identity/ transgender status was barred.
- Housing discrimination based on a person’s source of income was prohibited and a Tenant’s Bill of Rights will be created.
- A community policing measure passed that will prohibit biased policing practices, and will improve accountability and transparency with law enforcement.
- Environmental Justice was declared as a policy of the Commonwealth to ensure environmental justice practices are adhered to throughout the state.
- Automatic voter registration and same day registration will make registering more accessible and efficient.