Vermont: Ensure community health and safety
To: Governor Scott,
Cc: Vermont State Legislature, local Selectboards
As Vermonters, we are now in a global crisis along with the rest of the planet. We thank the State and local governments that have already taken some swift action to create protections during this time. As voices from the LGBTQ, Black, POC, disabled, working class, and immigrant communities, we know COVID-19 impacts our communities disproportionately.
As a community we are being asked to self-distance and quarantine in order to save lives and bring about the end of this crisis more quickly. We know every person within our community is impacted by COVID-19, from work stoppages to sickness, to increased fear, anxiety, and isolation, and that most Vermonters want to do their part for the greater good. We also know that in order to fully engage in adequate self-distancing efforts people need safe housing, economic resources, access to health care, and critical protective equipment. We hope you will act to help keep everyone in our communities safe and able to weather this storm.
There is an ongoing obligation to continue implementing steps that will keep all people in Vermont safe during this COVID-19 crisis. Since the beginning of March, we know Vermont community members and State Legislators have been working hard to get these and other measures passed to protect our health and safety. We are grateful for the ways that some of these needs have been met. Items with asterisks (*) next to them have been met or partially met, details about these updates below. We believe these actions will support the health and wellbeing of all members of our community and urge you to put them in place:
* Provide hazard pay and PPE protections for all essential workers: Essential workers are putting their lives on the line every day with higher exposure to COVID-19. It is vital that these workers are incentivized to continue their work and are provided with safety measures to support their health and wellbeing. Many of these essential workers are regularly underpaid and are at a higher financial risk due to COVID-19.
* Instruct health insurance companies to remove all co-pays and waive deductibles: For all types of care, not only for COVID-19-related care. The State of Washington issued such an emergency order on March 5.
Freeze all rent and mortgage payments: Many tenants and homeowners will not be seeing a paycheck as businesses close. People must not suffer during this crisis due to rent.
* Halt Evictions and foreclosures: COVID-19 requires that people are able to self distance themselves; having safe and secure housing is of the utmost importance. Windham County Courts have already pressed pause for the next 90 days. The rest of Vermont can follow suit.
Provide comprehensive support to people who are unhoused or living in overcrowded conditions, including safe isolation for the sick and relocation of people in crowded shelters.
Suspend Immigration enforcement: Everyone deserves to be in the safety of their own home during this time and all times. Vermont must halt all I.C.E. activity at this time to protect the public health of our most vulnerable communities.
* Reduce the prison population: Identify and release the following people: individuals who are elderly; populations that the CDC has classified as vulnerable (those with asthma, cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes); people in local jails who are within 6 months of completing their sentence; and people incarcerated due to technical violations of probation and parole. Implement other suggestions made by community organizers and District Attorneys from throughout the US detailed here.
Help those who are incarcerated stay connected: provide unlimited free video visits and phone calls. Currently, Vermont DOC is offering one free video visitation and two 5 minute phone calls per week. This is insufficient to meet the need to connect with loved ones during this time of rapid change and global health crisis. While we understand and support pausing in-person visits during this time to support community health, we cannot allow prison phone companies and video visitation companies to profit from public health distancing efforts during this time.
We recognize Vermont community members should always have access to the level of health, safety, and connection provided by these actions. In the short term, these steps will help our state confront the current public health crisis. In the long term, everyone in our communities should have access to safe and affordable housing, health care, economic security, and connection with loved ones all the time. These issues must continue to be addressed after this current crisis in order to more fully support our whole community.
Out in the Open
The Root Social Justice Center
Lost River Racial Justice
Vermont Workers’ Center
Pride Center of Vermont
Tenants Union of Brattleboro
* On May 1st, the Vermont Senate passed a hazard pay grant bill, S.346. The bill has yet to be signed into law by Governor Scott. The bill does not include providing PPE to all essential workers. The bill is expected to cover a total of 33,500 essential Vermont workers that make less than $25 an hour.
Essential employees who work more than 108 hours per month from mid-March to mid-May will receive $1,000 per month. Employees who work 34-108 hours per month during the same period will receive $600 per month.
* As of April 15th, 2020, Governor Scott announced an emergency regulation requiring commercial insurers to waive cost-sharing requirements, such as co-payments, coinsurance or deductible requirements, for the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19. This is wonderful, and we need for the State to remove co-pays and waive deductibles for all types of care- not just for COVID-19 related care.
* The Vermont State House and Senate passed S.333, a bill that would place a statewide moratorium on all rent evictions and foreclosures during the Covid-19 state of emergency and for 30 days after. The Governor has yet to sign bill into law.* The Attorney General of Vermont has made several guidelines for the VT DOC in response to COVID-19, and the prison population has decreased slightly since the beginning of the Stay-At-Home order. We are aware the VT DOC is transferring COVD-19 positive cases to St. Johnsbury. To ensure the health and safety of our entire community, people who are incarcerated must be released if they are elderly; populations that the CDC has classified as vulnerable (those with asthma, cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes); people in local jails who are within 6 months of completing their sentence; and people incarcerated due to technical violations of probation and parole.