Emergency Measures Needed
As the coronavirus pandemic unfolds rapidly, it is imperative that state and local policy leaders enact emergency measures that will protect the most vulnerable populations. For those with higher incomes and more social supports, the sudden changes in daily life due to the pandemic will be inconvenient and disruptive. But for lower-income communities and communities of color, the disruptions caused by coronavirus will be disastrous – unless state and local leaders step up immediately to enact meaningful emergency measures.
Early responses to the coronavirus public health crisis have sometimes assumed a privilege that not all enjoy. Abrupt closures of dormitories, for instance are threatening to cause homelessness for many first-generation college students – often students of color and immigrant students.
To counter this trend, Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) calls upon state and local leaders to immediately adopt and enact the following emergency measures:
- Ensure Low-Wage Workers Are Protected – We must accelerate the implementation of mandatory paid family leave to begin now, and ensure that our current sick leave and related laws fully protect individuals who are impacted by school and work closures. We should also ensure that unemployment insurance will fully cover unemployment due to work schedule interruptions, lay-offs, reduced schedules, or other inability to work caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The Commonwealth also needs to provide workers with comprehensive and accurate information about their rights during this time. Indeed, other states have already provided workers with accessible information on what laws protect them during this public health crisis.
- Ensure Low-Income Students Continue To Have Access To Nutrition – For low-income students, school closures threaten to disrupt not only educational opportunities but access to vital food and nutrition as well. Scores of low-income students receive most of their nutrition through their schools, including both lunch and breakfast. State and local leaders must act immediately to ensure that free and reduced meal options remain available for all students impacted by school closures in Massachusetts.
- Protect Small Minority- And Women-Owned Businesses – State and local leaders must enact emergency programs to provide no- or low-interest loans to small businesses to help them weather the dramatic slowdown of spending caused by the coronavirus. Though the federal government has announced plans for low-interest loans through the Small Business Administration (SBA), these are not expected to result in funds for at least 3-4 weeks. That is a lifetime for struggling minority-, immigrant-, and women-owned small businesses that count on steady attendance at farmer’s markets, corporate orders, or foot traffic to survive. Without immediate help at the State and local level, many of these businesses will go under – with disastrous long-term economic impacts for immigrant communities and communities of color.
- Impose Moratorium on Evictions – For the reasons set forth here, LCR has called upon the Commonwealth to place an immediate moratorium on evictions in Massachusetts. We cannot allow the coronavirus to lead to a further epidemic of homelessness. We applaud Rep. Mike Connolly and Rep. Kevin Honan for their rapid legislative response. Click here to check-out their bill.
Massachusetts has often been a nationwide leader in proactively looking out for its most vulnerable communities. During the current public health crisis, State and local leaders must exercise this leadership role again. For every impact of the coronavirus pandemic, leaders must ask: “How does this affect the most vulnerable communities in the Commonwealth?” and respond accordingly.
The time to act is now.