Progressive local and state policy during the Covid-19 crisis
March 22, 2020 10:38 PM   Subscribe

There is little we can do about the dysfunction in the Trump administration. But we can still help, by working for progressive responses to the crisis in our states and communities. Some of these policies are focused on releasing certain inmates.

Some policy options are:
I. A moratorium on all evictions and foreclosures, at each stage, such as suspension of filings of eviction and court appearances, and ensure law enforcement does not carry out eviction orders.
II. A moratorium on all utility shut-offs. Besides water, electricity, gas, and trash, this might also any telecommunications. During a crisis, people need to be informed, and digital connections can help with mental health while people are cooped up and the world is disrupted.
III. Release of certain inmates from jails and prisons, such as those who are:
A. Elderly or medically vulnerable.
B. Within 2 to 18 months of their release date.
C. Nonviolent offenders.
posted by NotLost (11 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Facing eviction as millions shelter in place (WaPo)
The federal actions announced last week would protect more than 30 million homeowners from eviction, but they do not cover the nation’s 40 million renters. HUD issued a 60-day moratorium on evictions for homeowners who are unable to pay their federally backed mortgages. The Federal Housing Finance Agency also granted relief to homeowners with loans backed by two government-controlled companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Some public housing authorities, including New York, the largest in the nation, also imposed moratoriums on evictions, but that reprieve only applies to tenants in federally subsidized apartments.

While some governors, mayors, city councils and judges are taking action, most state- and municipal-wide moratoriums on evictions last only a few weeks. [...] Without a national moratorium on evictions, housing advocates say, some of the country’s most vulnerable people will lose the homes that could keep them from contracting the virus. Black and Hispanic Americans, who are more likely to be renters and work low-wage jobs, would be disproportionately affected.

[...] The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose 33 percent in one week to 281,000, the Labor Department reported last week. Economists predict more than a million workers are expected to lose their jobs by the end of the month.

[...] In the absence of federal legislation, courts and governors in more than 20 states issued statewide halts to eviction proceedings. Elsewhere, the solutions are patchwork: Many major cities have taken action, while renters in smaller communities remain at risk. Some sheriff’s departments have made unilateral decisions not to enforce court-ordered evictions; others said they were legally obligated to follow through.
posted by katra at 11:02 PM on March 22 [3 favorites]

Congressional rescue talks churn as crisis deepens (AP)
With a population on edge and shell-shocked financial markets poised for the new work week, Washington labored under the size and scope of the rescue package that’s more ambitious than any in recent times — larger than the 2008 bank bailout and 2009 recovery act combined.

Democrats say the largely GOP-led effort did not go far enough to provide health care and worker aid, and fails to put restraints on a proposed $500 billion “slush fund” for corporations. They voted to block its advance.

Democrats won a concession — to provide four months of expanded unemployment benefits, rather than just three as proposed, according to an official granted anonymity to discuss the private talks. The jobless pay also extends to self-employed and so-called “gig” workers.

[...] The urgency to act is mounting, as jobless claims skyrocket and the financial markets are set to re-open Monday eager for signs that Washington can soften the blow of the healthcare crisis and what experts say is a looming recession. Stock futures declined sharply as Trump spoke Sunday evening.
posted by katra at 11:42 PM on March 22 [2 favorites]

And can we PLEASE finally categorize basic internet service as a needed utility?? Have it included as such in calculations for such things as food stamp benefits, and also prevent shut-offs in times of national emergency?
posted by Silvery Fish at 5:30 AM on March 23 [16 favorites]

From Santa Clara County:
In Santa Clara, the threat of outbreak is forcing a rethinking of the typical calculus that decides who belongs in jail. Eighty percent of people currently incarcerated in the county jail have not been sentenced and are awaiting trial. Together, the offices of the public defender, the district attorney, the sheriff, and pretrial services are aiming to release at least 600 people—20 percent of the jail’s current population—as soon as possible.

Judges will ultimately make the call to release people, but the prosecutor’s stance is one of the biggest influences on decisions from the bench. In the face of the virus, that stance has undergone a radical change. Max Zarzana, a Santa Clara County prosecutor who is coordinating releases with the public defender’s office and pretrial services, told Slate that while prosecutors will continue to oppose releasing people accused of the most serious crimes—like murder, rape, and arson—they will no longer prioritize “the safety of property” over people’s freedom.

“Before, I might make a straight-faced and heartfelt argument to a judge that goes, ‘You can’t let this person out because as soon as he gets out, he’s going to steal somebody else’s car,’ ” said Zarzana. “I’m not making those arguments right now. I’m making the opposite argument: ‘Judge, look, I know that if you let this person out, he really might steal somebody else’s car, but stealing a car is not worth a death sentence from dying in prison due to COVID or increasing the risk of exposure to other people.’ ”
posted by Lexica at 10:33 AM on March 23 [3 favorites]

CURB has been active in California. Their website seems to be currently down, so the link points to their twitter.
Tell Governor Newsom: #ClemencyNow @GavinNewsom #LetThemGo Release Incarcerated Elders #COVID19
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:55 AM on March 23 [1 favorite]

From March 20th: @CACorrections confirmed 2 staff with #COVID19. No confirmed cases among people in CA prisons yet but we simply CANNOT WAIT; @GavinNewsom we need action NOW.

Today: A humanitarian disaster in the making: At Rikers Island, corrections officers and staffers "say they do not have the equipment they need to fight [COVID-19], and question whether the department is doing everything it can to stop the spread.”

Some background "Sentenced to Covid 19" at The Appeal
“The danger of infection is high in these crowded, unsanitary facilities—and the risk for people inside and outside of them is exacerbated by the ‘churn’ of people being admitted and released at high rates,” writes Premal Dharia in Slate. “In Florida alone, more than 2,000 people are admitted and nearly as many are released from county jails each day.”

In 2018, five cases of mumps in immigration detention centers ballooned to nearly 900 cases among staff and detainees.

Normally, crowded jails overlook prisoners’ medical problems and find it difficult merely to separate people based on their security classification, Homer Venters, the former chief medical officer of the New York City jail system told Mother Jones. Adding quarantines and sequestration of high-risk prisoners to the task will make managing a COVID-19 outbreak “almost impossible,” he said. “For jails and prisons that are already filthy, and have, generally speaking, a low standard of clinical care, and are trained to take care of one person at a time … this will be a very, very difficult process.”

Even if a person is not incarcerated at all but has pending charges and is making regular appearances in court, the outcome might not be different. Courts are crowded, dirty, and similarly indifferent to the well-being of defendants.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:06 AM on March 23 [1 favorite]

My brother recently retired from a federal corrections department. God. What a horror show. It's the one thing he is to the left of Attila the Hun on. After 26 years working in that system he is for the abolishment of all prison (except for murders and rapists).

But how well is this thought out? 30% of the country is laid off now. So. Release people from prison in the middle of a pandemic to go where and do what? Many of them quite old and ill. With no health insurance, jobs, or homes/prospects or family resources. There are already scant resources for returning cons. So we let a whole bunch of people out. Then what? Isn't that from the frying pan into the fire?

I guess what I'm thinking is I don't see this as politically very appetizing to anyone with any power (Also technically this might mean releasing people like Harvey Weinstein - he's old and sick - and what a political nightmare that would be).
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 6:20 PM on March 23

Democrats throw down the gauntlet on vote-by-mail (Greg Sargent, WaPo Opinion)
Here’s a good piece of news amid the parade of horrors: House Democrats are set to introduce their own version of the stimulus, and importantly, it includes a set of provisions that would potentially prevent coronavirus from scuttling this fall’s elections. [...]

That pro-democracy piece, according to a summary of the bill being circulated by House Democratic aides, contains these provisions:

* It mandates that states and jurisdictions set up a process by which any eligible voter can vote by mail if he or she chooses — and would not require voters to give any rationale for doing so. Such voters would be provided with a postage-prepaid, self-sealing envelope.
* If any state or jurisdiction declares an emergency, they would be required to automatically mail absentee ballots to all registered voters, no later than two weeks before Election Day.
* It requires states and jurisdictions to implement at least 15 consecutive days of early voting in federal elections.
* It mandates that states and jurisdictions create a same-day voter registration option for all eligible voters.
* It budgets $4 billion for states to implement these changes, in keeping with a recent Brennan Center analysis that recommended that any coronavirus response legislation include at least $2 billion to protect the election.
posted by katra at 7:41 PM on March 23 [5 favorites]

Election officials in both parties call for emergency funding to expand voting by mail before November (WaPo)
Dozens of state and local election officials, both Republican and Democratic, have signaled their desire for the funding — a sign of how the crisis is altering the usually sharply divided politics around voting measures. Still, Republicans in Washington say they are inclined to oppose an effort to include the funding and new rules on how states run their elections in a $2 trillion coronavirus response package, with some casting the effort as part of a Democratic strategy to try to load up the bill with unrelated pet priorities.

[...] Voting advocates — and election officials in both parties — see it differently. They predict a colossal surge in demand for early and mail-in balloting by voters seeking to protect themselves against the highly infectious coronavirus. Preparing for it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, a cost directly related to the pandemic, they say.

[...] Some GOP lawmakers have said election-related funding can come later, but advocates said there is little time to waste for officials on the ground. “They need the money now,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. “If we wait a couple of months, it will be too late. They won’t be able to use it effectively or make the changes needed to avoid significant chaos on Election Day in November. Time is already tight.”

[...] But in the face of the current health crisis, the partisan divide — at least outside Washington — appears to be closing. More than three dozen state and local election officials, many of them Republicans, signed onto a letter to congressional leaders published by the Brennan Center on Sunday seeking federal election assistance.
posted by katra at 1:17 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]

How to Get Money to Small Businesses, Fast (Adam J. Levitin and Satyam Khanna, NY Times OpEd)
Small businesses are already laying off employees in response to the drop in demand because of the coronavirus. These layoffs risk sending the economy into a downward spiral of decreased demand, defaults and further layoffs within weeks or even days. To limit the damage, small businesses need help now. [...]

We will be lucky if most small businesses see any assistance in less than two months. That is time they — and their employees — do not have.

Fortunately, there is a way to help them immediately: a national debt collection moratorium. The single best thing Congress can do to stanch economic bleeding is to enact as stand-alone legislation a national moratorium on collections against small businesses.

This would include a freeze on foreclosures, evictions, repossessions, utility disconnects, garnishments, default judgments and concessions of judgments, administrative offsets and negative credit reporting. The best way forward, in other words, is a temporary, nationwide suspension of debt payments for small businesses.

Why this relief in particular? According to a recent survey by the Federal Reserve banks, 70 percent of small employers have outstanding debt. The only way businesses can maintain employment is if they have some cushion against these coming obligations.

A national collection freeze is an economic stimulus measure: It has the same effect as immediately injecting cash into the economy in that it allows businesses to shift funds from debt service payments to other pressing needs. Instead of paying mortgages, rent and utilities, small businesses can shift their cash to keeping people employed.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:36 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]

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