With government budgets soon to be depleted by the COVID-19 pandemic and some vital services likely to be scaled back, more than 40 nonprofit organizations, progressive groups and labor unions have written to the state’s top political leaders with a lengthy wish list of demands to protect struggling working families.
The document, addressed to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and members of the Joint COVID-19 Response Legislative Workgroup, is a 3,400-word list of demands that covers everything from health care to employment to protection for immigrants to voting rights.
It was delivered Monday, with 235,000 Marylanders having applied for unemployment insurance benefits in the past three weeks and Hogan announcing a state budget freeze for all but the most essential services.
“[W]orkers 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,” the letter reads in part. “Our government must implement every possible measure to protect them as well as the millions of Marylanders confronting extreme financial hardship.”
In their letter, the groups call for the following:
— Expansion of health care access: “Policymakers must ensure that all COVID-19 testing and treatment is free and readily available to all and take additional steps to preserve and expand access to health care,” the groups say in a summary of their policy prescriptions. “All essential businesses and agencies should be required to take adequate precautions and provide needed equipment to keep all workers safe.”
— Expanded protections for workers: The groups are seeking the expansion of federal and state sick leave policies to cover all workers; they want to place a priority on state assistance to small businesses going to employers who are committed to retaining or reinstating workers; and they want state funds to fill gaps in unemployment insurance.
— Greater protections for tenants: The state’s three-month moratorium on evictions for tenants who are unable to meet their rent “is a good starting place,” the summary says, “but preventing a spike in evictions and homelessness following the end of the state of emergency will require a number of additional steps, including financial assistance to households and landlords, prohibiting late and collection fees, and requiring banks and landlords to develop a three-year repayment plan.”
— Expanded help for the homeless population: The organizations want the state to “rapidly rehouse” people living in homeless shelters or on the streets — preferably into motels or permanent housing.
— Reducing the number of people in state prisons: “There are already reports of coronavirus spreading in Maryland prisons,” the groups’ summary reports. “To avoid making the problem worse: reduce police presence and unnecessary arrests, perform an individualized assessment of detainees to release those who are at high risk for the virus and those who have sentences less than 12 months, and provide additional sanitation products and protective equipment for staff and incarcerated individuals.”
— Support for public school teachers, staff and students: “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,” the summary says. “The state should ensure equal access to materials, including technology and internet access, and provide supportive services to students and parents who need them.”
— Fair elections: The groups are demanding that the state ensure every voter receives a ballot by mail, has adequate instructions on how to vote by mail, and prepaid postage to return their ballot.
— Anti-discrimination measures: In addition to more and better reporting of data of COVID-19 cases by race and ethnicity, the groups are calling for the state to take additional steps to investigate and punish hate crimes.
— Assistance for struggling Marylanders who may not qualify for federal recovery programs: “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 groups’ summary says. “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 letter was signed by:
1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, 32BJ SEIU, Advocates for Children and Youth, AFSCME Maryland Council 3, Bend the Arc Jewish Action – Prince George’s County, CASA, Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Community Justice, Concerned Taxpayers, Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, US Provinces, Doctors for Camp Closure, Franciscan Action Network, Greenbelt People Power, Howard County Indivisibles, Hyattsville Mennonite Church, IMPACT Silver Spring, Indivisibile Howard County, Jews United for Justice, Job Opportunities Task Force, LiUNA Local 11, Maryland Center on Economic Policy, McFarland & Associates, Inc., Montgomery County Racial Equity Network, Muslim Public Affairs Council, National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, One Fair Wage, Our Revolution – Howard County, Peace and Justice Coalition of Prince George’s County, Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools, Progressive Maryland, Progressive Neighbors Steering Committee, Public Justice Center, Racial Justice NOW! DMV, RISE Coalition of Western Maryland, Sanctuary DMV, SEIU Local 500, Showing Up for Racial Justice Montgomery County, Silver Spring Justice Coalition, Sisterhood of Salam Shalom Takoma Park/Silver Spring, Takoma Park Mobilization, The Pluralism Project, Transit Immigrant Assistance Silver Spring, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, UNITE HERE Local 7, UNITE HERE Local 25, Young People for Progress.
“It is the responsibility of our Maryland elected officials to care for those who live in their districts, and that is doubly true for Marylanders who live in the margins,” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA, the immigrant rights organization. “Ignoring us now exposes our communities to the worst aspects of this pandemic. It might as well be a death sentence.”