Practically every human being on Earth is feeling the effects of the COVID19 emergency. I fear we are not prepared for the coming weeks and months, and our senate district will be disproportionately impacted by loss of work, housing and food insecurity, lack of adequate healthcare, outsized consumer debt, and so much more. The governor has temporarily stopped evictions from taking place, the mayor has halted utilities shut-offs, and there are proposals introduced in the legislature to provide assistance to those most in need. These measures are necessary but nowhere near sufficient. On behalf of the working people of SD 62, many of whom are currently barred from working, I am calling for immediate, comprehensive action to protect our people from inhumane treatment and prevent this crisis from turning into an economic catastrophe.
Resources for Renters and Further Demands
Our senate district has more renters than most, many of whom are suffering from loss of income or work due to the COVID19 emergency. Governor Walz has issued an executive order to stop evictions due to inability to pay for the duration of the state of emergency. The exact terms of the executive order may change, and you should check with a housing attorney such as someone at Homeline to find out if you are at risk of eviction. In addition, Governor Walz has announced 100M in rental assistance which is expected to be available mid-August to folks who have missed payments due to COVID-19. You can stay tuned for updates about assistance at the MN Department of Housing Website.
- Per the Governor's executive order, it is unlawful for you to be evicted due to non-payment. If you are being threatened with the possibility of eviction, you may file a complaint with the MN Attorney General's office.
- If you are not able to pay your rent this month, the renters' rights organization Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia (a.k.a. IX) has created a form letter for notifying your landlord of non-payment. Note that this will not protect you from eviction, late fees, or retaliation.
- If you have a legal question, IX recommends contacting MN Homeline for free housing related legal advice.
- Governor Walz's executive order only protects renters from evictions for as long as there is a state of emergency in effect. Without further action, many renters will incur thousands of dollars in unpaid back-rent during this time and will be at risk of eviction as soon as the order is lifted. We need total rent cancellation meaning no rent can be collected or charged during the public health emergency. Organizations such as Inquilinxs Unidxs as well as the Twin Cities Democratic Socialists of America (TCDSA) are calling for action. You can sign their petition by clicking here.
- Many homeowners and small-scale landlords are also at-risk of bankruptcy or losing their homes. We need to cancel mortgage and utilities payments in order for rent cancellation to work.
Healthcare for All Now
- One of the key flaws in our employer-based health insurance system is that it is ill suited to deal with a public health emergency that also impacts employment, such as a pandemic. We need MinnesotaCare for All and ultimately Medicare for All. Any Minnesotan who does not have healthcare should automatically be enrolled in MinnesotaCare for the duration of the crisis.
It is to our collective advantage to have sick Minnesotans seek and recieve treatment! Testing should be free to those in need and available to all regardless of health insurance. No one should be responsible for out of pocket costs related to the diagnosis or treatment of COVID19.
- We must prioritize testing for those most likely to spread or contract COVID19, such as our essential workers e.g. healthcare workers.
- Until we realize our demand for universal healthcare for all Minnesotans, it is important that you know that MNSure has reopened its enrollment period to anyone who is uninsured due to the crisis. You can learn more about the special enrollment period at the MNSure website by clicking here.
Housing, Health and Stopping the Spread
In order to stop the spread of COVID19, most Minnesotans are social distancing by staying at home. Our homeless Minnesotans do not have this option. Our shelters are overcrowded and underresourced and many remain on the streets. Meanwhile, we have hundreds of ICE detainees and thousands of prisoners in MN who are completely exposed to infection.
- There are thousands of vacant hotel rooms in the Twin Cities Metro area. In addition there vacant housing units owned by the government or investors. For the good of public health, we need to make these available as semi-permanent housing for folks who are currently crowded into shelters or left out on the streets.
- Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has hundreds of detainees in the state of MN. Many in ICE custodee have committed no crime other than the "crime" of being undocumented. We need to release detainees before detention facilities turn into death camps due to the unmitigated spread of COVID19 and other infectious diseases.
- Minnesota is currently home to thousands of prisoners. Many of these prisoners pose little to no risk to public safety, and should be released before the pandemic hits our prisons and jails. We need to flatten the curve to avoid overwhelming the healthcare system. That means we must release those who are incarcerated for technical violations, those eligible for work release, as well as medically vulnerable and immunocompromised prisoners.
- It is up to the state to ensure that all prisons, jails, and detention facilities are adequately equipped to deal with the COVID19 pandemic, including providing enough N95 masks and ventillators to prevent loss of life and medical risk to inmates and personell.
Worker Safety and Dignity in the COVID19 Era
This crisis has shown us all which employees are truly essential. Unsurprisingly, it is overwhelmingly blue collar workers who we depend on to meet our needs during a crisis. It's time we show these workers the appreciation they deserve by raising their wages and providing hazard pay for the risk they are undertaking during the crisis.
Not all employers have shut down non-essential operations due to the crisis. Many construction contractors continue to ask their employees to show up to work. We need to end all non-essential construction projects and prioritize the allocation of personal protective equipment (PPE) to frontline worker.
Those who have continued to go to work deserve workers' compensation if they become sick. The MN legislature passed a workers' compensation bill to cover what it calls "frontline employees." While the bill does cover our healthcare workers, it leaves out other frontline employees such as sanitation workers, grocery and convenience store workers, and many workers who continue to run our state throughout this crisis. This is an unacceptable.
Times like these underscore the need for statewide paid sick/safe leave.
- Thanks to efforts undertaken by labor advocates and organizations like TCDSA, Twin Cities Metro Transit has shifted to a policy of not accepting onboard fare payement and rear-door entry for busses This is done to protect drivers from unnecessary interaction with riders. According to Metro Transit, they are still asking riders to voluntarily pay using their app. It is the position of this campaign that public transit should be fare free, which will eliminate transaction delay and protect essential transit workers throughout this crisis and beyond.
A Long Road to Recovery Ahead
Our economy has slowed down dramatically due to the COVID19 crisis. Some high profile politicians and commentators have suggested that we must send people back to work prematurely to save the stock market. This is unconscienable. As long as public health experts advise that it is unsafe to return to work, we will stay at home. Necessary as it may be, this course of action will have a dramatic impact on our economic outlook as a state. The federal and state government are responding to the situation with legislation for stimulus and economic relief. It is my duty as a candidate and activist to fight for economic justice at all levels, that means fighting for policies that center the working class and small businesses, not the wealthy and giant corporations.
- The Minnesota legislature has just passed a 33 page COVID19 relief package. The bill is a start but it leaves far too many Minnesotans out, including our hourly ESP's who have lost their income for the remainder of the school year. This is unacceptable.
- The federal stimulus bill has expanded unemployment benefits. I encourage anyone who has suffered from total or partial loss of work/income to apply for unemployment at the MN Unemployment Insurance Website. Even with the federal stimulus, not everyone will qualify for UI and MN must fill in the gaps. We must also ensure that our UI department has enough resources to fulfill unemployment claims in a timely manner.
- Thousands of Minnesota carry student debt. This debt prevents many from making major purchases, buying a home, or starting a family. When we are thinking about the type of stimulus we will need to recover from this, we must prioritize the cancellation of student debt, especially loans backed by the state of MN such as the SELF Loan. If you are a student borrower who has open SELF Loans, you should be aware that the state has recently added an option to request 6-month forbearance (i.e. no payments due, learn more here.) You can take advantage of this program by contacting FirstMark services.
The Republican-controlled federal government approved direct payments of $1200 per adult as a means of economic stimulus. It's time for us to enact a basic income as a state, which will encourage spending and guarantee a basic right to economic power to all.