PJC advocacy pivots to address COVID-19 crisis
April 9, 2020: With the spread of COVID-19, people face growing barriers to supporting their families and staying healthy: layoffs as businesses close, landlords who are threatening tenants with eviction and refusing to fix serious conditions of disrepair, lack of insurance and access to health care, and limited access to remote learning opportunities for students. The Public Justice Center is responding, continuing to advocate while working remotely. Here are a few ways we’re taking action:
Nonprofits are coming together to urge government officials at all levels to act quickly. The PJC and more than 170 organizations called on Maryland leaders to:
- support essential workers without health insurance,
- remove barriers to unemployment benefits and public benefits,
- help low-income Marylanders to quarantine through sick leave expansion,
- ensure the safety of Marylanders in jails and prisons,
- halt new immigrant detentions,
- offer tests and quarantine options for people experiencing homelessness,
- prevent loss of housing,
- ensure access to water, gas, and electricity, and
- increase access to food, medicine, and testing.
Our attorneys are focused on fighting for housing, employment, health, and education rights of our clients and communities in the wake of court, school, business, and Maryland General Assembly closures. We are:
- Talking to our clients and former clients to understand how this crisis is affecting them and connecting them to resources.
- Creating online FAQs and holding virtual know-your-rights trainings based on clients’ questions and up-to-date information from public officials.
- Pushing lawmakers to take actions – like expanded unemployment insurance coverage for true independent contractors, expanded paid sick leave for vulnerable workers who are otherwise ineligible, and protections for front line, high risk home care workers – that will better enable people to shelter in place and weather the coronavirus storm, both physically and economically. The PJC and allies are also advocating to extend and expand a statewide moratorium on evictions.
We are monitoring the impact of local and state measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 to mitigate the effects on low-income and unemployed residents and prisoners. We are:
- Engaging with stakeholders to identify and advocate for strategies to promote educational equity while schools are closed, including advocacy on how federal funding for schools’ pandemic response efforts gets spent.
- Working with partners to facilitate a new process for determination of public benefits, now that the Department of Human Services is closed to the public.
- Working with partners to identify strategies to ensure that low-wage workers maintain an income stream – either through sick leave, unemployment insurance, or a temporary fund – that will allow them to shelter in place and avoid the potential catastrophic economic impacts related to the virus.
- Working with partners to ensure that low-wage and vulnerable home care workers have adequate personal protective equipment and are aware of and have access to the free childcare to which they are entitled as “essential” personnel.
- Advocating with a broad coalition and in the courts to push the correctional system to reduce the population density in jails and prisons in Baltimore City and around the state.
- Advocating with partners to move homeless persons out of shelters and into hotels and other non-congregate housing.
- Working with stakeholders on creating and funding an effective system to provide immediate relief to renters and homeowners facing eviction or foreclosure when the moratorium is eventually lifted.
We are supporting the response of legal advocates across the country through the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel. We are:
- Developing research on the right to counsel for orders of quarantine, exploring questions such as: 1) whether individuals have the right to counsel to challenge an order that restricts their ability to travel somewhere they need to go that has not been deemed “essential”; and 2) whether the right extends to orders directed at a whole city or just orders naming individuals.
- Researching the legality of a federal moratorium on all evictions, one that would extend beyond federally subsidized tenants covered in the CARES Act.
- Researching the legality of whether states or the federal government could cancel rent and mortgage payments for a certain period of time.
- Working with other national advocates to prepare for the crushing need for representation in housing court when the eviction moratoria expire.
These are just a few of our early responses to a crisis that has magnified economic and racial inequities in our communities. We will continue to stand with workers, tenants, students, and others to change the systems and policies that keep people from thriving. Thank you for joining us in this critical work.