May 7, 2020
United States Senate
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Members of Congress
Since our founding in 1893, the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) has boldly imagined a world where women, children, and families are fully valued and supported. Through education, advocacy, and community service, our network of over 90,000 advocates has worked to make this vision a reality at all levels of government and in communities across the United States. During this unprecedented public health crisis, NCJW has remained true to our values and committed to advocating on behalf of the most vulnerable among us. In the words of our founder, Hannah G. Solomon, “[w]e must add our voices to those who cry out that there is a standard below which we will not allow human beings to live, and that standard is not at the freezing nor starving point . . . In a democracy, all are responsible.”
We greatly appreciate your service throughout congressional coronavirus response efforts. However, we know that there is still much more work to be done to address the immediate health emergency; to support families, workers, and those impacted by the ongoing global pandemic; and to prepare for a successful recovery.
For instance, response packages have excluded employers with over 500 employees from emergency paid sick and paid family and medical leave programs. Temporary rules by the Department of Labor (DOL) created extremely broad definitions of health care providers and emergency responders who can be excluded from leave either by the DOL or an employer. Additionally, paid family and medical leave only cover needing to provide child care in cases of extended closures of the child’s school or place of care, and the DOL has issued more temporary rules giving businesses with under 50 employees broad discretion to exempt themselves. This also excludes caring for one’s own or a family member’s health needs and people who regularly receive care but are not children, such as elderly relatives. Immigrants were similarly excluded from testing and treatment coverage under Medicaid, and work authorizations for those with legal status under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs remain in jeopardy. Legislation has failed to provide an opportunity for the nation’s nearly 28 million uninsured to purchase coverage on the federal exchange or to protect disabled people requiring care from discrimination. Moreover, insufficient or no funding at all has been allocated to safeguard upcoming elections, to address the needs of sexual assault survivors, and to fully support those who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Finally, members of marginalized communities who rely on government health programs have been unjustly blocked from accessing essential reproductive health care through the inclusion of the Hyde Amendment in response packages.
As Congress considers the next phase of response legislation, NCJW urges you to address the above deficiencies and to incorporate the following critical priorities:
- Ensure free and accessible coronavirus testing, treatment, and prevention for all who need it.
- Designate abortion clinics and other reproductive health care providers as essential and medically necessary.
- Provide funding for independent clinics and abortion providers.
- Increase access to health coverage by opening a special enrollment period of the federal insurance exchange and expanding eligibility for Medicaid and other public health programs.
- Provide additional Medicaid funding for states, localities, and tribes, including a significant increase to the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP).
- Increase access to telehealth/telemedicine, particularly for marginalized communities and particularly for reproductive health care by directing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lift restrictions on medication abortion.
- Include provisions to address the medical supply shortage, including full utilization of the Defense Production Act.
- Protect frontline health care workers by directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard.
- Require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to upgrade data surveillance systems to collect and release robust federal demographic data.
- Appropriate $4 billion to the states to and/or expand online voter registration, no-excuse absentee voting by mail, safe in-person voting (including early voting), and voter education.
- Include Sens. Patty Murray and Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s PAID Leave Act in any response package.
- Expand the emergency paid sick days and paid family and medical leave programs to employers with over 500 employees.
- Expand the emergency paid family and medical leave program to cover caring for one’s own or a family member’s health care needs related to COVID-19 and those who regularly care for individuals who are not children (such as elderly relatives).
- Reimburse paid sick days at 100 percent of a worker’s wages, regardless of whether they are caring for themselves, caring for a loved one, or dealing with a school closure.
- Ensure that frontline workers have an absolute right to paid sick and paid family and medical leave.
- Remove small business exemptions from providing employees with school closure leave under the paid sick days and paid leave provisions in the law.
- Provide no-cost testing and treatment for COVID-19 and related conditions for everyone under Medicaid, regardless of immigration status.
- Remove discriminatory barriers that prevent lawful permanent residents from accessing Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) insurance exchanges by including HEAL for Immigrant Women and Families Act (HR 4701) language.
- Remove exclusion from stimulus cash payments of families that include individuals who file taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
- Auto-extend work permits for individuals with DACA and TPS and employees in critical infrastructure professions.
- Ensure language access is available for testing, treatment, and recovery.
- Halt implementation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Justice (DOJ) public charge rules.
- Suspend all Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids and deportations and release those currently held in immigrant detention.
- Reopen the US border to asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children.
- Invest in supports for survivors of domestic violence and sexual violence who are experiencing increased danger during this period of stay-at-home orders by increasing funding to:
- Help rape crisis centers transition to remote services and responds to the urgent needs of survivors;
- Provide shelter, alternative housing, and services to survivors and their families, and specialized services for children; and
- Enhance targeted and specialized services, as well as the capacity of law enforcement to respond.
- Expand Medicaid eligibility to cover immigrant victims regardless of status; allow those with ITIN numbers to access Recovery Rebates.
- Restrict immigration enforcement against survivors and allow critical flexibility with immigration processes to prevent hardship and injustice.
- Reverse the designation of gun stores, shooting ranges, and weapons manufacturers as essential businesses, recognizing the deadly intersection of domestic violence and firearms.
- Increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits temporarily by 15 percent, increase the minimum SNAP benefit to $30 per month, place a hold on harmful rules proposed by the Executive Branch that weaken SNAP eligibility and benefits, and provide administrative funding to states to help with an increased need for help.
- Eliminate asset limits for means-tested programs including SNAP, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and other supports.
- Make underlying structural reforms to strengthen unemployment protections so that benefits are increased, reach more people, and are responsive to economic indicators, not arbitrary deadlines.
- Provide additional special emergency loans for small businesses and the not-for-profit sector to cover payroll, operations, debt services, etc.
- Ensure funding for robust enforcement of civil rights protections including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Although this list is by no means comprehensive, we feel that these policy recommendations would provide the essential support families across the country so urgently need in order to survive this public health and economic emergency. Please reach out to Shannon Russell, Legislative Counsel, at firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information.
Chief Policy Officer
National Council of Jewish Women