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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 13, 2020 - Volume 48 Issue 11
Call to preserve medical benefits, halt evictions, prevent utility shutoffs, and provide emergency income assistance
Section One
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Call to preserve medical benefits, halt evictions, prevent utility shutoffs, and provide emergency income assistance

SEATTLE (March 9, 2020) - A group of leading community and labor organizations across the state - including Working Washington, the Washington Community Action Network, the MLK County Labor Council, the Transit Riders Union, and the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance - have signed on to an open letter calling on state political leaders to use their emergency powers to take four bold and necessary steps to mitigate the economic impacts of the coronavirus response:

1. Preserve medical benefits: Employers should be required to maintain the health benefits of their current employees, regardless of hours worked, and suspend the implementation of any other policy or practice that would otherwise terminate the health care benefits of anyone who currently receives such benefits. State and local government should similarly suspend any action to terminate anyone from any public plan of any kind.

2. Moratorium on evictions: In order to prevent the spread of coronavirus, we must keep people housed. Elected leaders should suspend all unlawful detainer filings during this crisis, and county sheriffs should suspend posting writs of restitution or otherwise carrying out evictions.

3. Prevent utility shut-offs: The impacts of utility shut-offs are severe in any circumstances but would be even more severe in the midst of a coronavirus-related public health emergency. For example, it is vital that people have access to hot water in order to wash their hands. All public and private utilities doing business in the state should halt all utility shut-offs during this crisis. This specifically includes companies that provide internet and cell service, as they are critically important channels to provide accessible, accurate, and timely public health information.

4. Emergency income assistance: Government should provide emergency assistance to "backfill" a substantial share of any income lost to any worker during this crisis, regardless of the specific circumstances of the income reduction, regardless of whether or not these circumstances are directly or indirectly tied to coronavirus, and regardless of classification as an employee or contractor. A new Emergency Income Assistance program could be rolled out quickly through the existing infrastructure used to pay unemployment benefits - though it would cover any reduction in work income, not just loss of employment - and could be funded through the release of surplus monies in the state budget stabilization account. Funds could be paid through simplified access to a combination of expanding partial unemployment benefits in the event of [reduction in] hours, a waiver of the "waiting week" and job search requirements currently attached to unemployment benefits, expanding paid family and medical leave benefits to cover preventive quarantine, and expanding workers' compensation benefits to cover exposure on the job.

You can read the full open letter [at https://medium.com/@workingwa/preserve-healthcare-halt-evictions-prevent-utility-shut-offs-provide-emergency-income-b7080357db3] making the case for these steps and detailing how they might be implemented.

Excerpt:
"To Governor Inslee, King County Executive Constantine, and Seattle Mayor Durkan: "We are writing to ask you to use your emergency powers to ease the looming economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis. Action is needed urgently to ease the impact of this crisis. With tens of thousands currently working from home, numerous public events canceled, tourism severely depressed, and "social distancing" encouraged, we are beginning to see dramatic reductions in demand at restaurants, coffee shops, and other businesses in the Seattle area. This has already led to large-scale cuts to hours for service industry workers, and it is likely not simply a short-term issue, or a localized one; telecommuting recommendations for tech workers already extend through the end of the month, and most experts anticipate the virus will likely continue its spread across the state and across the country in the weeks ahead.

"These kinds of broad, sudden, and sustained reductions in workers' income can cause severe financial strain, particularly when nearly half of people in our country enter this crisis having less than $400 saved up for an emergency. Spiraling economic insecurity could have compounding impacts on the economy: as cuts to demand lead to cuts to hours, which lead to cuts to income, which lead to more cuts to demand, which lead to further cuts to hours, and on and on.

"Public health is a central responsibility of government, and must be our shared priority - but economic insecurity is itself a public health issue. Having the money you need to support yourself and access to a safe place to live and other basic necessities are prerequisites to ensuring you can stay at home when you are sick, care for your family and community, appropriately weigh risks, and make thoughtful decisions about your health.

"And while our state has what are among the nation's strongest workers' rights laws, we do not currently have the tools we need to ensure working people can emerge from this public health crisis without risk of losing their medical benefits, losing their incomes, losing access to basic utilities, or losing their homes."

Working Washington is the voice for workers in our state. For more information, including our press kit, visit workingWA.org.

Courtesy of Working Washington

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