National and State Response to COVID-19 Pandemic
March 17th, 2020
To our Local, State, and National Representatives,
We write to you on behalf of my community today. First off, we want to commend you for the job that you’re doing on our behalf amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. We know you must be overwhelmed with requests from your constituents and are, at the same time, deeply concerned for your own family. During this uncertain time, we need to prepare our community for all scenarios. We are a group of professionals from various aspects of civil society.
In addition to these issues in my field, we are concerned about several other aspects of this pandemic and its impact on our community moving forward. Our community is at risk of not being able to obtain necessary food and medical supplies in the coming weeks. Grocery stores are running low on supplies, making it difficult for single parents, the elderly, and those with compromised health to find the resources that they need. At least 41% of adult residents have underlying health conditions and are 60 or older (78 million Americans) have a higher risk of developing serious illness if they are infected with COVID-19.
The most serious issue we are faced with relates to healthcare capacity. As the virus begins to spread through our community, we are likely to see hospitals, funeral homes, and morgues become increasingly overwhelmed. We will see people unable to leave their homes with no direct access to the support and assistance they might require. Due to the necessary closure of schools and businesses, the unemployment rate will likely reach unprecedented levels which will likely contribute to uncertainty, fear and potential civil unrest.. Emergency response will not be adequate to deal with the exponential increase in demand. We simply will not have enough health workers or supplies to deal with the influx of severe cases. We as a community are trying to prepare for this worst case scenario through civil society organizations but we still need our local and state governments to help us coordinate, organize, and augment these efforts.
We have no doubt that you’ve already considered these issues and the appropriate steps that must be taken to mitigate this emergency but we want to provide some recommendations based on the input I’ve gathered from community organizers in Lansing.
1 - Individual Stipends for Everyone
There has been discussion at the Federal level of providing a stipend to every individual or household to compensate for the sudden loss of income. This is a great start but we have several concerns. First, many residents have discussed not using the stipend if it means they will have to pay it back in the next year or two. It is going to take some time for most Americans to recover economically from this pandemic and thus it is unlikely that they can afford to pay back the stimulus in the foreseeable future. Second, many people (including undocumented, homeless, and returning citizens) do not have an ID or perminent address. How will these individuals be assisted? We recommend the option for cash payments distributed to those who cannot get a check mailed to them.
2 - Business Bailouts
The Federal Government has already earmarked a large percentage of the stimulus package for large multinational companies. This will not help the average person without guaranteeing that employees receive paid sick leave and paid isolation leave. If the 2008 Financial Crisis taught us anything, it’s that there must be conditions attached to large corporate bailouts. It would not be unprecedented for businesses to layoff employees without severance pay and pocket taxpayer money. We suggest using funds to bail out individuals and families first and worry about businesses after people are able to actually go out and pay for services and goods. There will be no demand for services such as airlines, cruises, etc. if the population is quarantined for 6-12 weeks.
3 - Business Loans
There are already a number of proposals vis-a-vis offering small business loans with low interest rates. Some businesses will not take out these loans because they do not know how they will pay them back in the future. There’s no telling if and how the market will rebound after this crisis. There must be alternatives for these businesses e.g., releasing them from their tax obligations, halting payments on rental agreements, mortgages, and utilities without the obligation of paying them later. This will help to ensure that they can shut down and pick back up where they left off. If everyone gets a stipend, business owners will be able to pay their bills and so will their employees.
4 - Stop Evictions, Utility Shut-offs, Credit Card, Student Loan and Medical Bill Payments
More than 30% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Most Americans are unable to absorb an unexpected expense of just a few hundred dollars per month without undermining their financial security. That means in 30 days many people will be unable to pay their mortgage, rent, and utility services. We must ensure that these residents are not forced out of their homes and that their credit is protected. Groups have recommended a 60-day freeze on utility shut-offs and fee waivers. This is not enough. We must implement a plan that allows residents to pay down balances based on income (or unemployment benefits). We need to call on our respective Health Departments to calculate how payments should be made based on ability. There must also be holds placed on student loan, credit card, and medical debt with no late fees or penalties. This will not be done easily as much of the debt is privately held but we must try and put pressure on the Federal Government, corporations, and banks to do whatever is necessary to save lives, reduce panic, and not punish those who get sick.
5 - Support for Food Centers and Shops
As we have seen this past week, stores are struggling to keep food on their shelves. Most residents shop at large retailers such as Meijer, Kroger, and Walmart. These stores are very big and allow for massive groups to congregate (well over the 10 persons recommended by the CDC). We suggest that you ask stores to report and enforce expert recommended hygiene measures, including the wearing of gloves and masks for all employees. We also suggest that stores create special hours to allow staff the time required to restock shelves in a safe and efficient manner. We also suggest that these stores create special hours for the elderly and those with health and mobility issues. These humane considerations have already been mandated elsewhere across the country. It is vital that we create the space for the most vulnerable groups to access the resources they need while minimizing their risk of exposure to the virus. Lastly, we recommend generating a list of viable community centers that can act as localized food distribution centers in an effort to limit cross contamination.
6 - Support Civil Society Organizations
There are many organizations in our community who want to help while conforming to legal and health guidelines. The CDC suggests that all nonessential businesses shut down but many of the services offered by these organizations are essential to our community, including mental health, hygiene, and addiction/overdose services. Our community cannot function without them. We call on our local officials to offer guidance to essential community organizations in addition to an official statement of support for organizations operating within legal and public health frameworks.
7 - Funeral Homes and Morgues
People are going to die. Period. Research suggests that there are not enough funeral homes or spaces in morgues to address an exponential increase in demand. As a result, hospitals could become overwhelmed in terms of issuing death certificates and moving bodies to morgues. Additionally, existing morgues may not continue to operate if their owners become ill. We need to have a team on standby to deal with this issue. Whether it’s calling in the National Guard or training non-essential government employees, we must develop plans that compensate for current and future capacity shortages.
8 - Residents in close proximity to Hospitals and quarantine zones
If local hospitals are overwhelmed, they will most likely set up outside facilities for quarantine and testing. This may mean that residents in the direct vicinity of quarantine zones will have reduced mobility to access essential items. We would like to see the city prepare residents in these areas to relocate for a defined set of time. Many people will not prepare unless they are told to prepare. For those residents with no relocation alternatives, resettlement zones away from these zones should be established.
9 - Distributing Essential Medicines
We ask that the State and Federal Government allow doctors to write prescriptions for 60 days where appropriate, this includes prescriptions for those recovering from substance abuse disorders (methadone, suboxone, etc) and suspend daily programs. Forcing individuals to travel to these centers everyday will only increase the rate and spread of infection as well as panic if these services shut down. People with heart problems or those in need of life saving daily medication must also receive extended prescriptions immediately.
10 - Release Nonviolent Offenders
We are calling on the State of Michigan to release all nonviolent offenders who are at extreme risk of being exposed to the virus without adequate medical attention. This will help medical teams in prisons and jails focus on treating people and reduce the likelihood of food shortages, panicking, and rioting in our jails and prisons. This will also increase the safety of prison and jail staff.
11 - Detention Centers
We ask our representatives to pressure the Federal Government to release undocummented individuals from detention centers. Research suggests that US detention centers are unsanitary and are lacking serious medical supplies and health professions. If we do not act quickly, many of the detainees will die. We must make sure that Federal and State authorities have contingency plans for these at risk individuals.
12 - Pay Increase for Essential Service Workers
We acknowledge that it’s not within your power to increase wages of all essential workers (such as those individuals who work at grocery stores) but it’s imperative that we try. When residents begin to get sick, they may panic and quit coming into work or strike for more well-deserving pay. They are putting their lives on the line. We suggest that you give a sizable pay increase to workers in essential services such as health workers, waste and sewage workers, and other essential employees that put themselves on the line.
We realize this is a difficult time but we must take action to ensure the safety of all members of our community and country. Unfortunately not all lessons have been learned from past disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005. We struggle to take action quick enough. We often look to the Federal Government for salvation. While the resources of our national government are absolutely essential, we cannot rely solely on federal agencies to act quick enough. We don’t have the luxury to wait for help that may not be forthcoming. We are asking all representatives and employees of the United States government to use their power to commit to these measures, from national to local levels.
We cannot do this without you. Thank you for your service and everything you do in our names during these uncertain times. We are strong together and will get through this, but we must act now!
Charla M. Burnett, MA, MS
Program Coordinator - MDOT Office of Economic Development
Graduate Student in Community Sustainability
Lansing, MI 48915
Lansing City Council
Lansing Area Mutual Aid
Lansing for Revolution
Greater Lansing Democratic Socialists of America
Melina Brann, LMSW
Women’s Center of Greater Lansing