Health Equity Policy Platform for COVID-19 Response and Recovery

A COVID-19 Public Health Response & Recovery Policy Platform

Decades of underinvestment in our public infrastructure and neoliberal policies that gutted protections for working people, our healthcare, and our wider safety net are vividly exposing their consequences. People of color — most harshly Black, Latinx, and Native people — are disproportionately experiencing the consequences of these conditions.

In this context, directly impacted communities are naming and working towards transformative solutions around areas including the criminal legal system, housing security, economic security, and healthcare access. 

Public health needs to act on solutions led by directly impacted communities

Below is a cross-sector policy platform, that if implemented, would challenge the conditions that create inequities in health outcomes. HIP did not generate these ideas — they come directly from organizations leading the work. As public health, we need to do everything possible to aid in putting these policies in place to support people during this pandemic and beyond.

Now — as ever — is the time to set aside concerns of objectivity and politics, and use our power to change the unjust systems that have perpetually harmed the health of communities across the US.  

Download the Policy Platform

Economic security

Expand unemployment, income support, paid leave, and childcare programs
Expand and extend recurring, direct cash stimulus payments until the economy recovers. Develop a payment infrastructure to quickly disburse aid and refer to the universal basic income as a model to learn from.

Enact job-protected paid sick leave and paid family leave to cover all workers in businesses of all sizes in those states where such systems do not already exist (e.g., through the federal PAID Leave Act).

Bolster and reform state unemployment insurance (UI) systems to respond to increased demand and to protect workers who lose their jobs and those whose hours are reduced. Extend timeline for expanded unemployment benefits program. Waive job-seeking requirements and eliminate all waiting periods for delivery of benefits.

Expand employee retention tax credit to businesses who keep employees on the payroll, to help subsidize wages.

Expand direct income support programs for people and families, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) while also relaxing eligibility requirements.

Invest in childcare including relief to providers, classification of childcare providers as essential workers, and access to no-cost childcare for essential workers.
Ensure access for independent contractors and gig workers
Extend the availability of economic support programs to correctly classified independent contractors and gig workers.

Communicate clearly to workers who may have been misclassified as independent contractors (e.g., gig workers) that they may apply for UI and that the state—not their employer—will make the ultimate decision regarding eligibility.
Ensure access for formerly incarcerated and undocumented people
Allow formerly incarcerated people, undocumented people, and people living in mixed immigration status families access to: 
  • Paid leave and UI programs
  • Direct income supports
  • Stimulus payments
  • Nutrition assistance
Ways for public health to take action on economic security ⛑
✓ Demand that local governments enact strong and permanent paid sick days legislation that includes expanded leave for public health emergencies. Check out this sample policy language from a Better Balance. Governmental public health: make sure you understand how you can leverage your legal authority to make these demands.

✓ Demand that the Senate take up the HEROES Act by asking your Members of Congress to support this legislative package which would address gaps in the current federal bills by expanding access to emergency paid sick days and paid leave, among other important provisions to support workers.

Advocate for local and state emergency paid sick leave legislation that expands on federal bills so that it covers businesses with over 500 employees, employers with less than 50 employees, and misclassified gig workers. Check out this policy tracker from CLASP that compiles amended, expanded or newly passed paid sick laws in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, outlining the eligibility and details of each leave policy.

✓ Advocate to create a fund to support undocumented people who are not included in federal bills and to expand support for workers to access available state benefits. Check out these examples from California and from New York City.

✓ Advocate to create local, state, and federal green economic recovery plans and stimulus legislation based on the Green Stimulus policy proposals.

✓ Work with local officials to enact universal basic income programs for residents, to ensure they can stay housed, fed, and healthy even if they lose their jobs or get sick. Check out the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration.

Housing security

Cancel payment requirements and suspend rate increases
Cancel rent, mortgage, and utility payments through the duration of the public health and economic crisis for all renters, homeowners, and small businesses, and ensure a 3+ month recovery period.

Ensure that utilities like water, gas, electric, phone, and internet are provided as a public good, especially during a public health crisis. Indefinitely suspend any proposed rate increases and utility service shut-offs for all households, regardless of ability to pay.
Enact a moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, and encampment sweeps
Ensure permanent refuge and enact moratoriums on evictions, foreclosures, and sweeps of encampments. All people must: 
  • Be able to stay in their homes
  • Be provided adequate housing
  • Be allowed to safely shelter-in-place whether they are housed or unhoused. Provide comprehensive support to those “sheltering-in-place” outside.
  • Be able to maintain all of their belongings to ensure personal and public health and safety. 
Turn vacant units into safe homes for those who need them
Turn vacant units (in hotels, dorms, offices, unoccupied homes, etc) into safe homes for people experiencing:
  • Homelessness
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Being released from incarceration and detention
  • Others needing healthy housing now
Invest in quality, stable, affordable housing for all
Invest in homes for all to protect and promote the public’s health by:
  • Converting publicly owned vacant land into community land trusts
  • Removing housing from speculative markets and converting into permanently affordable, community-controlled housing
  • Preventing displacement during development
  • Establishing enforceable rent control, tenant protections, and proactive rental inspections
Ways for public health to take action on housing security ⛑
Sign onto the Public Health Awakened letter to Governors calling for housing protections

Sign onto the Right to the City Alliance's Beyond Recovery Demands

Sign onto COVID-19 National Housing Platform

Demand that local governments leverage their legal authority to enact strong anti-displacement measures and prevent utility shut-offs for public health protection. See this example linking housing instability to health impacts during the coronavirus or these model ordinances for rent control and eviction moratoriums at local and state levels.

Advocate for protections for renters, rent control, and eviction moratorium ordinances. Start by checking this state housing policy scorecard. You can also check out this eviction moratorium ordinance template.

✓ Coordinate with local organizers in your city, county, or state to add your public health voice and see if adapting the above demands into a letter to decision-makers would support their existing work. Check out an example of demands from the CA National Lawyers Guild, and letters from health workers in New York and San Francisco.

✓ Help people facing housing instability connect with local organizations and work with your local health officer to expand access to shelter by issuing hotel vouchers and make use of vacant property to protect public health and ensure homes for all.

✓ Elevate equity-focused frameworks in housing and health. Check out Berkeley Media Studies Group’s guide on shifting the narrative from safety during the pandemic to the importance of treating housing as essential to public health.

Healthcare access

Expand testing and treatment and eliminate disparities in access
Expand health care coverage through Medicaid and the exchanges and protect coverage for those with employer-based plans. Eliminate barriers to health screenings and treatment in Medicaid for undocumented people.

Significantly expand testing and treatment to be accessible to all, including the uninsured and underinsured, poor communities and communities of color with limited healthcare access, and all immigrants.

Ensure that any rationing of care decisions do not deny equal access to care for poor people, people of color, and people with disabilities and chronic conditions. Ensure that any criteria do not replicate past and ongoing discrimination.

Ensure abortion care is protected in every state as essential healthcare, and oppose any new restrictions being placed on abortions.

Ensure access to interpretation services, so that limited English proficiency speakers and people with disabilities are able to understand what is happening and communicate with loved ones.
Protect essential workers
Purchase and disburse personal protective equipment to all those who contribute to patient care and who provide other essential services (i.e., front-line workers), including by using the Defense Production Act.

Provide those working in essential services with hazard pay.
Track COVID-19 data by race/ethnicity, income, and other demographics currently not collected
Require hospital and health department reporting of COVID-19 cases and deaths by:
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Income
  • Geography
  • Occupation
  • Other relevant demographics that are currently not reported
Ways for public health to take action on healthcare access ⛑
✓ Amplify demands of frontline healthcare and other essential workers for provision of PPE. See the National Nurses United updates as an example. 

Sign on to these Community-Based Workforce Principles and help agencies adopt the principles as they expand their contact tracing workforce to ensure that response efforts are appropriately embedded in disproportionately impacted and vulnerable communities.

✓ Advocate to state authorities to expand coverage and eliminate barriers to care. Start by checking this healthcare policy expansion tracker for your state to assess gaps.  

✓ Pursue the release of race/ethnicity and demographic data. See examples from New York City, Santa Clara, CA, and Cook County, IL health departments. 

Actively counter racism and stereotyping through public health messaging, see examples from Colorado and Berkeley Media Studies Group.

✓ Exercise health department authority by issuing statements to hospitals outlining abortion care as an essential service. See this Massachusetts Department of Public Health memo as an example. Learn more about local and state health department abortion-related work.

Learn more about the COVID-19 Health Justice Advisory Committee Statement from the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.

Where did these demands come from?

This list of demands was collated by consulting with and tracking the demands of the following grassroots and powerbuilding organizations and coalitions, their members, and allied organizations working closely with impacted communities including: