Philadelphia — March 18, 2020 — State Senator Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) issued the following statement, expressing his support for the American Working Families Relief Action Plan to aid working Pennsylvanians in response to the coronavirus COVID-19 crisis and subsequent statewide closings. The proposal is endorsed by a number of organizations representing more than 1 million workers who are fighting to improve wages, working conditions, health care and other issues workers face.
“As we follow guidance from public health officials to limit further spread of the coronavirus, it is important we protect our people who have been hit the hardest hit by schools closing, businesses shutting their doors, and growing health care concerns as our system becomes strained,” Sen. Hughes said. “This pandemic has exposed the fact that we are not prepared to quickly or comprehensively help people in the midst of an immediate crisis. I fully support this plan and believe we must broadly adopt policy of this nature so that we are prepared for a public health crisis of this magnitude, as well as providing workers and families with the safety they need.”
The entire Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus is in support of these measures. You can read the highlights of the proposal below:
Expansion of Healthcare Access:
- Fully paid leave for any COVID-19 related issue, including sick time, furlough, self-quarantine, and providing care to infected family members;
- Free COVID-19 testing and treatment, regardless of insurance status, language, race, country of origin, or immigration status;
- No profits from this crisis. Private corporations providing public health services must do so at no cost, and any eventual vaccine must be made available cost-free to the public.
- Protections from disciplinary action from employers against workers who utilize sick time or leave due to COVID-19 related issues;
- Expansion of Medicaid to all Pennsylvanians without insurance until the end of 2020.
- Waive all cost sharing for emergency room (in or out of network), urgent care (in network), and office visits (in network) associated with medically necessary screening and testing (in and out of laboratories) for Covid-19.
Protection of Front-line Workers and Communities:
- Emergency funding for safety equipment and mental health supports for front-line healthcare workers, direct support professionals, and first responders;
- Emergency standards and accountability for healthcare facilities to implement containment control plans;
- Suspension of foot traffic to public and community facilities, where operationally feasible and legally permissible. When not feasible/permissible, limitations of foot traffic to the greatest extent possible by shifting public services with online and in-person options to online-only. Promotion of teleworking options for public and private sector employees;
- Regular cleaning of workplaces that remain open to workers and/or the public in a manner that meets or exceeds federal and state standards for preventing COVID-19;
Economic Relief for Working Families
- Doubling unemployment compensation and extending the length of the benefit to 52 weeks, eliminating the “waiting week” and waiving the requirement to search for work for COVID-19 related layoffs and closures, and increased staffing to allow the rapid processing of new unemployment applications;
- Suspension of foreclosures, utility shutoffs, evictions, credit defaults, school loan payments, and other liens for workers who may be laid off or have reduced hours for the duration of the national public health emergency;
- Enhancement of food security programs for Pennsylvania’s working families, the elderly, and children by increasing funding for nutrition assistance programs;
- Review and revision of public benefit and unemployment compensation eligibility requirements to ensure that low-income, seasonal, contract, and gig workers are not adversely affected by the pandemic;
- Continuation of pay and benefits for hourly K-12 School District employees, along with salaried employees, during any school shutdowns;
- Continuation of pay for contracted workers, such as those employed by food service contractors, during any campus shutdowns ordered by the colleges and universities where they work, including PASSHE and state-supported colleges and universities, as well as non-public colleges and universities;
- Return to work protections for those who utilize unemployment compensation or leave work due to childcare, school, or other temporary closures;
- Assessment of benefits such as paid sick leave and unemployment compensation for tipped workers based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ calculation of $11.85 as their hourly rate;
- Establish free and reliable access to telecommunication tools so that workers can work remotely by ensuring internet providers waive fees for the duration of the crisis and cell phone companies provide free mobile hotspots through every cell phone.
Protection of our Values, Safety, and Voices
- Expansion of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to properly investigate attacks on Pennsylvania’s Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, as well as to educate, and inform the public to prevent discrimination that may result as a result of this pandemic;
- Implementation of aggressive legal and regulatory measures to prevent price gouging for common household goods, especially those necessary to prevent and treat COVID-19;
- Necessary resources to protect our democracy and ensure all people have the ability to be counted and make their voice heard, including the 2020 Census and ongoing elections;
- Ensuring fair and accessible elections in Pennsylvania during the pandemic by mailing all voters a ballot with postage paid return.