The Only Way Out: Transform our Conditions to Halt the Virus
The Biden Administration and Congress
Please join health workers and organizations around the country by signing onto our letter urging Congress and the Biden Administration to take bolder action on what communities most harmed by injustice have called for since the start of the pandemic: stronger workplace protections; access to safe, affordable housing; decarceration of jails, prisons, and detention centers; and expanded vaccine access.
After you sign, please check out this Action Guide for more ways to take action!
Please sign by end of day, Sunday October 3rd.
The Biden Administration and Congress
From: [Your Name]
On September 9, President Biden announced a new prong in the federal government’s strategy to combat COVID-19 — establishing vaccine mandates for almost 2/3rds of workers in the US, including health care workers, federal contractors, large businesses, and the vast majority of federal workers. While this push may stem the tide of the current surge, vaccinations alone will not address the ongoing harms experienced by the communities most impacted by the pandemic.
As public health workers, many of whom have been on the frontlines of our nation’s healthcare and health department responses to the pandemic, we say: enough is enough. As we face the ever-growing COVID-19 surge, we need additional, immediate actions to protect our communities’ health and prevent further avoidable suffering.
The stakes are far too high for half measures. We need our leaders to continue to be bold and courageous, and to use public health expertise to save lives. We must address the structural conditions that increase risk of exposure and the worst impacts of the virus.
This means immediately acting on what communities most harmed by injustice have called for since the start of the pandemic: stronger workplace protections; access to safe, affordable housing; decarceration of jails, prisons, and detention centers; and expanded vaccine access. We commend the state, tribal, territorial, local, and private sector leaders who are already implementing some of the necessary measures to keep our communities safe. This bold leadership must now be matched at the federal level.
Because of systemic racism and structural oppression, Black, Indigenous and other people of color, working class people, and people in rural areas are at greater risk of exposure to the virus, and its worst health outcomes. And decades of disinvestment from critical public health and health care infrastructure have especially devastated these communities. Intervening to disrupt these injustices is the only way to stem the continued spread of the virus.
We call for the following measures to be taken immediately by Congress and the Biden Administration. The demands in this letter echo those of impacted communities and leaders in the housing justice, community safety, and economic justice movements.
Housing & Utility Protections
Renters, people who are unhoused, and working class homeowners face multiple negative health outcomes due to housing instability amidst the resurging pandemic. Now, the absence of federal eviction protections, major delays in dispersal of federal Emergency Rental Relief, and climate crisis-fueled extreme weather events like hurricanes and wildfires have further compounded health risks. We need long-term housing protections that extend beyond current baseline needs to affirm a basic right to shelter.
To support housing and utility protections, we call on:
- Congress to swiftly legislate a full eviction moratorium to:
- Ban all eviction filings, hearings, judgments, and writs of execution;
- Cover all eviction types, including those related to rent and otherwise; and,
- Apply automatically and universally, without the need for a tenant to file declaration, and not limited to areas where cases are spiking – protections are needed everywhere to prevent virus spikes and allow people to stay safe
- Congress and the Biden Administration to support utility debt cancelation (including Rep. Tlaib’s Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act of 2021) and its inclusion in ongoing infrastructure funding packages
- Congress and the Biden Administration to support ongoing direct cash assistance as the solution to the slow rate of Emergency Rent Relief distribution
- Congress and the Biden Administration to create incentives and guidance for local extension and enactment of hotel programs to prevent heightened exposure risks associated with being unhoused
- Congress and the Biden Administration to raise awareness of and include in other relevant federal guidance CDC’s existing guidance to halt encampment “sweeps”
The pandemic continues to magnify the horrific health consequences of the criminal legal system, with outbreaks continuing in overcrowded jails, prisons, and detention centers while federal relief funds are funneled into policing and incarceration. Policing and incarceration were public health crises long before the COVID-19 pandemic, and lives continue to be at stake.
To support community safety, we call on:
- Congress to co-sponsor and pass the People’s Response Act, which redefines public safety as a public health issue and funds community-based, community-centered approaches to safety
- Congress to cut funding to ICE and CBP and invest in our communities, including education, healthcare, and housing
- President Biden to use his power to grant clemency to incarcerated women and girls, following the leadership of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls
- President Biden and CDC to rescind the Title 42-based Trump-era border closure order which misuses public health powers to detain and expel people seeking asylum, and instead implement existing public health measures to welcome refugees and immigrants into the US
- The US Attorney General to not re-incarcerate people who were formerly incarcerated in federal prisons and released due to the COVID-19 pandemic
- The Department of Treasury to issue a final rule to ensure implementation of the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund and the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund established under the American Rescue Plan Act is an investment in community recovery not a boon to banks, cops, and more corporate tax cuts
Workers in public-facing and other high-exposure jobs – positions that are disproportionately held by Black, Indigenous, and people of color – continue to be at high risk of contracting COVID-19 due to inadequate protections to safeguard the health of working class people. Workers need access to liveable wages, paid sick leave, strengthened workplace health and safety standards, and other health-sustaining programs and policies to thrive during the pandemic and beyond.
To support workplace protections, we call on:
- Congress to increase funding for inspection and enforcement of COVID-19 safety regulations at workplaces by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), including to state and regional offices
- Congress to expand Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA tax credits), currently set to expire on September 30th, to allow employers with under 500 employees to claim a tax credit when employees use emergency paid sick leave
- Congress to pass permanent, job-protected paid sick leave and at least twelve weeks of paid family and medical leave to ensure workers can take time off when they are sick, to care for family members, and to care for children during school closures throughout the pandemic and in the recovery
- Congress to enact hazard pay and priority vaccine distribution for all essential and frontline workers, and provide Workers’ Compensation and job protection for workers who contract COVID-19 (with the presumption that exposure was at work)
- Congress to increase funding for states to bolster and reform unemployment insurance systems in response to increased demand, and to protect those who lose their jobs or whose hours are reduced with “right of return” policies
- Congress to include independent contractors, gig workers, formerly incarcerated people, and undocumented people in all federal legislation and economic recovery funding
- The National Labor Relations Board and Congress to protect workers against retaliation when they speak out against unsafe conditions at work
- The Department of Labor to require Strict enforcement of the OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard, which covers healthcare workers, and prompt issuance by OSHA of enforceable emergency COVID-19 protections for all workers
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to illuminate and amplify the existing inequities in the social and economic systems that shape our health. The impacts of this virus are experienced unequally, with communities most harmed by centuries of injustice disproportionately experiencing the worst health impacts of the pandemic and economic fallout. Endless health inequity is not inevitable: existing tools and policies can stem the ever-growing COVID-19 surge. As public health professionals, it is our charge to disrupt these injustices. We call on Congress and the Biden Administration to take bold action with leadership based in a commitment to the well-being of all.
The undersigned health workers and organizations