March 15, 2020
Dear Governor Ige,
The partners and organizations signed below are writing to request action for our working families. Our state safety net is not equipped to deal with the crisis resulting from COVID-19 and steps must be taken to ensure our working families do not fall through the cracks.
The Centers for Disease Control and our Department of Health issued guidance stating people should stay home if they are unwell. Workers in jobs that require frequent contact with the public, including those in food preparation and service, personal home care, and child care are among the least likely to have paid sick days and the most likely to be unable to afford to take unpaid time away from work. The Department of Labor and Industrial Relations estimates 2,300 people will lose their job as a result of the virus.
The crisis of this pandemic reaches beyond the workplace. We have seen school closures in other states and cities. The Department of Education has cancelled all school-sponsored travel to the continent and the University of Hawaii is switching to online classes, effective March 23rd, amid concerns of COVID-19. Our schools provide more than education to their students and families. For many students, school is their safe place while parents are working and it is where they know they will receive a full meal. Cancelling school or school activities without providing safeguards for students will have significant negative impacts on our communities.
As the virus spreads, people should seek treatment without worrying about their ability to pay. We are lucky that many of our residents have health insurance and we need people to attend to their medical needs not only for their health, but the health of our communities. Where it is possible, costs should be eliminated or reduced for medical care.
Our state should take whatever actions we can now and adopt policies to prevent the same crisis in the future. Below is a list of policies and practices we believe need to be adopted to keep our working families steadfast.
Protecting Families Now
- Waiving waiting period for Temporary Disability Insurance benefits and Unemployment Insurance benefits.
- Expanding and increasing Unemployment Insurance benefits
- Allowing people quarantined due to and recovering from COVID-19 to utilize unemployment insurance benefits
- Increasing the benefit amount
- Allowing state workers to utilize sick leave while schools are out
- Asking the Dept. of Human Services to review the Administration for Children and Families informational memoranda “Flexibility in Spending CCDF Funds in Response to Federal or State Declared Emergency Situations” https://www.acf.hhs.gov/occ/resource/im-2017-02 to allow child care facilities and families to receive the assistance and resources they need
- Adopting state flexibilities for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and child nutrition programs and apply for available waivers. For example, the congregate meal waiver, which enables sponsors to serve meals in a non-congregate setting and at school sites during school closures related to the coronavirus
- Including an emergency appropriation to support our state's food banks in SB 75 or other COVID-19 appropriation bills
- Mandating health insurers to waive co-pays for testing, emergency room visits, and treatment when there is suspicion of COVID-19.
- Ensuring anyone seeking treatment when there is suspicion of COVID-19 can receive care without costs.
Protecting Families in the Future
- Passing Senate Bill 2491, which would create a paid family leave program
- Incorporating paid sick days into HB 2541, specifically language to allow 112 hours of sick leave per year and use for self-quarantine, and allowing employees to utilize immediately
- Enhancing unemployment benefits by adopting a Short-Time Compensation program
- Expanding the Kupuna Caregivers program by decreasing the required working hours from 30 to 20 per week and increasing funding for this program. Due to their high risk status, now is an inopportune time to transfer kupuna to care facilities and therefore, preventing burnout for caregivers is extremely important.
Additionally, we urge Speaker Saiki to amend the membership of the Select House Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness by adding stakeholders from labor unions, the Hawaiian community, education organizations, advocates for the homeless, interfaith groups, domestic violence survivors, and service providers for economically disadvantaged members of our state's 'ohana and elderly. Doing so will ensure that the committee represents not just the business community's interests, but the public interest.
We appreciate the prudency practiced by our elected officials and leaders and ask that urgent and decisive action is taken so unnecessary suffering by our working families is avoided. We know the majority of our families are not equipped to weather this storm and it is our collective responsibility to ensure they have the tools and resources necessary to do so.
Thank you for taking action to protect Hawaiʻi’s families,
ACLU of Hawai‘i
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Hawai‘i Section
Americans for Democratic Action Hawai‘i
Blueprint for Change
Common Cause Hawai‘i
Community Alliance on Prisons
Democratic Party Hawai‘i Education Caucus
Early Childhood Action Strategy
Faith Action for Community Equity
Family Hui Hawai‘i
Family Promise of Hawaiʻi
The Food Basket Inc. Hawai’i Island Food Bank
Hawai’i Afterschool Alliance
Hawaiʻi Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice
Hawaiʻi Children's Action Network
Hawai'i Health & Harm Reduction Center
Hawai'i Maternal and Infant Health Collaborative
Hawai‘i Public Health Institute
Hawai‘i State Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Hawai‘i State Commission on the Status of Women
Hawaiʻi State Democratic Women’s Caucus
Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition Hawai‘i
Maui Food Bank
Midwives Alliance of Hawai’i
National Association of Social Workers, Hawai‘i Chapter
Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawai‘i
Pono Hawai‘i Initiative
Robert Pantell, MD
Save Medicaid Hawaiʻi
Shay Chan Hodges, Lean on And Lead
UNITE HERE Local 5
Women's Caucus of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i
Young Progressives Demanding Action
YWCA of O'ahu
Lieutenant Governor, Josh Green, MD
Senate President, Senator Ronald Kouchi
House Speaker, Representative Scott Saiki
Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, Director Scott Murakami
Department of Human Services, Director Pankaj Bhanot
Media contact: Ryan Catalani
(808) 531-5502 ext. 4