Women, especially women of color, are on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis in every way possible. Women are 85% of home health care and personal aides, 93% of child care workers, and 66% of the grocery store cashiers and salespeople risking exposure to keep our communities healthy and safe. Women are also on the front lines of those losing their jobs: a recent survey found that women are twice as likely as men to have already been laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic. Women, and especially women of color, are also overrepresented in the low-paid service economy that is getting slammed with layoffs—and with many of these jobs paying $12/hour or less, they are left with little cushion to fall back on.
Women are also bearing the brunt of school closings and families sheltering at home. Women still shoulder the majority of caregiving responsibilities; with schools closing across the country, women must figure out how to bring home a paycheck and care for children, often without access to paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, or child care supports. As everyone is urged to stay at home and the economic turmoil grows, domestic violence survivors are also at an increased risk. And the barriers to accessing health care, including reproductive health care, that women, especially Black women and other women of color, already experience are further exacerbated by this crisis.
Federal lawmakers have provided important relief including expanding unemployment protections, public health investments and small business relief, but their efforts are only a fraction of what is needed. The federal COVID-19 response has included aid to the states to help them meet the increased demand for services and avert layoffs at a time when revenues are plunging. NWLC will continue to support additional aid to the states.
Unless or until more federal help arrives, there is a lot state policymakers can do—and are doing—to fill the gaps in the federal response and help mitigate the spread of the virus and its economic impact. Given that women, especially women of color, will be disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, state policymakers must center gender justice in the following ways when making policy decisions:
- Protect front line workers—including health care workers, child care workers, and others whose work is critical to our public health—many of whom are women:
- Fill in the gaps left by the new federally funded emergency paid sick days and public health emergency leave requirements by requiring all employers to provide emergency paid sick and family and medical leave protections that recognize the diversity of workers’ needs for leave during this time—and providing additional support to businesses looking to meet unanticipated costs.
- Use existing flexibilities under Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)—including around eligibility requirements and provider payment criteria—to support families, educators, and child care providers during this public health crisis, while continuing to ensure children are cared for in healthy, safe environments.
- Fund the purchase of health and cleaning supplies or services necessary to keep child care centers and home-based child care providers safe and sanitary and provide health and safety information and training to child care providers in all relevant languages.
- Ensure that healthcare workers and other front line workers, including grocery story workers, farmworkers, home care and child care workers, shelter and crisis services providers, and delivery service workers, are protected from economic and physical harm as a result of their response to the pandemic. For example, Minnesota and Vermont are using state funds to provide child care for essential workers including grocery clerks. Child care providers who serve essential personnel should receive pay that reflects the essential nature of their own jobs and have access to health care, mental health care (through remote means), and nutrition supports for themselves, their families, and the children and families they serve.
- Design paid leave, housing assistance, grants for small businesses, and other supports so that all essential service providers, including abortion providers and child care providers, whether centers, family child care homes, or family, friend, and neighbor care providers, can participate and receive the benefits.
- Require state Occupational Safety and Health Agencies (OSHA) to respond to worker complaints about unsafe conditions related to COVID-19 with an immediate call to the employer or an onsite visit. State OSHA should be prepared to issue citations if workers are in danger and the employer is not implementing safe practices.
- Extend state filing deadlines for labor and employment and civil rights charges and complaints, so that those who have experienced violations of their civil rights do not lose those rights because of the current emergency. Do not waive or suspend anti-discrimination obligations for businesses receiving state funds or assistance.
- Eliminate barriers to health care – Medicaid, COVID-19 Testing and Treatment, Birth Control, and Abortion
- Expand coverage and access to health care by expanding Medicaid to more individuals and increasing utilization of presumptive eligibility to allow hospitals and health care providers to quickly enroll individuals in Medicaid. Suspend administrative barriers to enrollment, such as redeterminations/renewals, and barriers to benefits, such as preauthorization requirements and quantity limitations on prescriptions. Eliminate immigration status restrictions, including the 5-year bar for Medicaid eligibility. Finally, suspend Medicaid premiums and terminations of coverage through the end of this emergency period.
- Provide a special open enrollment period for state health insurance programs and streamline enrollment processes (e.g. relying on enrollment in other benefits programs). Nine states, including Washington, Massachusetts and Maryland, have opened special enrollment periods to allow uninsured individuals to enroll.
- Eliminate cost-sharing for all testing and treatment for COVID-19, including drive-through testing. New Jersey announced administrative actions to waive cost-sharing for COVID-19 related care. Similar actions have been taken in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, and New York.
- Provide funding to expand state health insurance programs’ outreach and enrollment assistance and public awareness efforts.
- Improve health care providers’ ability to provide contraceptives given that individuals are less able to go to see their provider or get to the pharmacy during this time.
- Ensure access to essential reproductive health care, including abortion, and end efforts to further restrict abortion access.
- Support working people and families and stabilize state and local economies
- Provide funding to meet the emerging needs of families, providers, and educators in the child care sector, including (but not limited to) paying providers when they are required to be closed, eliminating copayments or tuition for families without penalizing providers, providing substitutes for educators, creating new temporary facilities to serve children of frontline workers, helping state and local agencies track child care closures and capacity, and training and medical supports to enhance health and safety practices.
- Assist providers of services essential to women and families, including child care and reproductive health care providers, in accessing small business loans to help them sustain their businesses during and after this public health emergency.
- Require employers to pay at least the full minimum wage plus tips for tipped workers in establishments that remain open so that the sharp drop off of customers doesn’t leave tipped workers struggling even more to make ends meet. For purposes of unemployment insurance, the base pay for tipped workers should be their average hourly earnings (including tips) or the regular minimum wage, whichever is higher—not the tipped minimum wage.
- Enact employee protections to ensure no parent or caregiver experiences jobs loss because of lack of child care now or during re-entry after the crisis.
- Expand and strengthen state unemployment insurance (UI) programs to make UI as accessible and helpful to workers as possible during this crisis. Such reforms should include (but not be limited to) adopting work-sharing programs to support workers whose hours are cut, alternative base period, raising benefit amounts, lengthening the duration UI can be received, and expanding the “good cause” reasons for quitting and obtaining UI, including needing to care for quarantined or sick family members and escaping domestic violence, sexual violence and/or stalking. States should also ease or remove administrative barriers to help streamline the process for receiving UI and reduce the burden on already overloaded state systems. And states should start mobilizing, improving, and/or standing up infrastructures for the implementation of the latest federal changes to unemployment compensation, including the new emergency programs.
- Increase benefit amounts for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and relax eligibility requirements to ensure food security during this crisis. Submit a state plan to participate in the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program, which was created in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 to provide EBT cards to families with children who would have received free or reduced school meals but their schools are closed for at least five consecutive days during a public health emergency.
- Create refundable tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Child Tax Credit (CTC) to support families with low incomes.
- Support marginalized communities, including survivors of domestic violence, incarcerated populations, and people experiencing homelessness
- Increase funding to programs serving survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Broadly circulate the National Domestic Violence hotline and include with other COVID-19 related phone numbers.
- Ensure incarcerated populations have access to necessary screening and quality health care, while also reducing the number of people who are incarcerated and detained, including through release programs, medical furlough, early parole, cash bail reforms, and suspending voluntary local collaboration related to civil immigration law.
- Halt all evictions, foreclosures, and utility shut offs to prevent more families from experiencing homelessness. For example, California has authorized local governments to halt evictions, and New Hampshire issued an emergency order to prohibit utility shutoffs.
- Ensure Homeless Assistance Providers are following the S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) toolkit to support individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Learn the needs of Homeless Assistance Providers and use some of the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund allocation to address the needs of people experiencing homelessness.
- Ensure students can continue to receive an education while protecting their health, basic needs, and civil rights.
- Ensure that public K-12 students have continued access to school meals and that higher education students who face housing insecurity or health or safety risks at home have safe access to on-campus food and housing. Ensure that schools reimburse higher education students for travel expenses and unused room and board if they leave campus. Maintain school-provided health services for all students, including telemedicine and virtual counseling.
- Ensure that student workers are still provided pay and benefits, including students in state-funded work study. Follow the lead of the federal government and ensure that payments are suspended on state-provided student loans and, that there are no involuntary collections, garnishments, and interest accrual or capitalization on such loans. Maintain state-funded student grants and exempt any canceled student loan debt from state and local taxes.
- Explore ways to continue to provide learning opportunities for children of student parents; assist K-12 schools and higher education institutions in providing online or homebound instruction and, if necessary, summer classes; ensure that all students have access to necessary technological devices and internet; ensure continuity of accommodations and services for students with disabilities and English Language Learners; provide online instruction to students who have been suspended or expelled; and fully count K-12 online instruction toward promotion and graduation.
- Ensure that all schools continue to comply with civil rights and school safety obligations, including continuing to provide academic and safety accommodations and services to students who report harassment and other discrimination (including cyber harassment). Schools should also continue to report civil rights and campus safety data as required by federal law and mandates.
- Furthermore, schools should relax disciplinary policies unrelated to pedagogical concerns (e.g., dress code / uniform policies); in schools using online instruction, suspend the use of all exclusionary discipline; and in schools that remain open, suspend the use of exclusionary discipline in PK-5 and for minor or subjective misconduct in all grades.
- Protect all students from COVID-19 and stop the spread of the virus. This includes suspending new admissions to juvenile detention, correctional, placement, and immigration detention facilities, and releasing all young people from such facilities who have pre-existing conditions or have COVID-19 symptoms, unless they pose an immediate and substantial risk to public safety. All school buildings should also be sanitized in coordination with public health departments to make them safe for students’ return.
This list is not exhaustive, as the needs are vast. We plan to update the list with new resources and recommendations.