In response to the global COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic, governments around the world are taking critical actions to slow the spread of the virus and ensure our healthcare systems can maintain capacity to adequately serve their populations. Resources for educating yourself, your family and community on this virus and how to reduce its spread can be found on the edforsd.org website from Columbia’s Center for Sustainable Development, and on the CDC website here.
Yesterday, the Center for Sustainable Development and the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network asked Professor Yanis Ben Amor to host an online discussion about COVID-19 policy and practice. The audience, which included the general public as well as researchers from all over the world, raised a question about what can be done to help families whose homes and livelihoods could be put in jeopardy by the pandemic.
While school and business closures and other social distancing measures are absolutely necessary to protect our communities, these closures and families staying home will cause a lot of economic pain for many. Nearly a quarter of America’s workforce has no access to paid sick leave. Even before this crisis, data from the Report on Economic Well-being of U.S. Households for 2018 showed that 39 percent of U.S. households would not be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense, such as a car repair, doctor’s visit, etc. Considering this economic reality in light of our current crisis, for many, a missed paycheck could mean that the month’s rent or mortgage bill won’t get paid, putting families at risk of losing their homes. It could mean not being able to afford the internet bill, all the more necessary now that parents are expected to work from home while also homeschooling their children.
This past weekend, on March 14, the House of Representatives passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The bill provides two weeks of paid sick leave for those who don’t have it, or don’t have enough. The bill also provides paid family and medical leave for up to 12 weeks at a rate of 67 percent of a person’s normal pay rate. The bill is supported by Trump, but still faces an uncertain fate in the Senate. Additionally, tweaks made to the bill on Monday, March 16, open up loopholes for small companies and healthcare providers to exempt themselves. Our economy is also ever more reliant on people working in the “gig economy” as sole proprietors. In the current bill, such workers will be eligible for a tax credit, but this won’t help address the immediate financial needs of those who need help right now.
To address the immediate needs of struggling families, some leaders, such as Senator Mitt Romney, have called for $1,000 to be disbursed immediately to every American adult. Additionally, many localities, including Seattle, San Jose, and Miami, have put in place temporary moratoriums on evictions. Other leaders and advocates have called for additional moratoriums on housing foreclosures and collection of student loan and other debt payments so long as the social distancing period continues.
It is our duty as citizens to stay up-to-date on policy developments as well recommendations from public health officials in order to help allay some of the fears so many families are facing amidst this crisis. See below for resources you can use to contact your elected officials and voice your support for solutions that you feel are important for addressing this crisis.
Take Action: Contact Your Elected Officials
Find your elected officials at federal, state, and local levels by entering your home address here.
Many elected officials’ offices collect a tally of constituent comments that get compiled and shared with the elected officials regularly. Therefore, there is no need to go into a lot of detail, so long as you clearly say what it is you are requesting. Your comment will likely be summarized by a simple tick mark, and having your elected officials see lots of tick marks in favor of these measures could help families in need.
Action 1: Call your senators and encourage them to pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act without delay. A sample script is below, which you can use to either call or email your senators. Please note that you will likely be asked to provide your name and address to verify that you are a constituent. You can choose to provide it or not.
Senator’s office: Hello, this is Senator NAME’s office.
You: Hello, I am calling to voice my support for the urgent passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Families need this support now. I urge the Senate to minimize loopholes from the house bill to help ensure that a maximum number of families get the financial relief they need during this difficult time. Thank you for all you’re doing to address this urgent matter.
Senator’s office: May I take your name/address?
You: Sure, it’s XXXXX.
Action 2: Call your state and local elected officials, such as your governor, your mayor, and/or your city councilperson and encourage them to pass temporary moratoriums on evictions and home foreclosures. Before calling, you can do a bit of research online to see if any such measures are already being considered or have already been passed in your locality. Below is a basic script to help get you started:
Official’s office: Hello, this is Governor/Mayor NAME’s office.
You: Hello, I am calling to voice my support for a temporary moratorium to be placed on evictions and foreclosures in YOUR CITY/STATE in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Families who are at home and foregoing pay should not be at risk of losing their homes for following public health recommendations. I urge you to take action on this important matter. Thank you for all you are doing to address this crisis.
Official’s office: May I take your name/address?
You: Sure, it’s XXXXX.
While on the phone, you can also ask your representatives’ offices to share any new information on actions they are taking and how the community can support, so that you can help share information through your networks.
If you are outside of the United States, please spend a bit of time researching what policy measures are being considered that could use additional public support, and voice your support by contacting your leaders as appropriate.
Views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Columbia Climate School, Earth Institute or Columbia University.