COVID-19 has exposed glaring inequities in our society — inequities that call on us not just to recover from immediate impacts, but to reimagine California’s approaches and to transform our core institutions to provide real equitable outcomes for all residents. The Greenlining Institute recommends a variety of measures to protect public health, prevent displacement, and ensure that households have access to the services necessary for them to work, attend school, and access government and health services.
California should enact the Health4Elders proposal to provide full-scope Medi-Cal to an estimated 27,000 low-income undocumented elders aged 65 and older by removing immigration status as an eligibility exclusion. As part of the Health4All Coalition, we stand with the California Immigrant Policy Center and partners to urge the legislature to act immediately to remove the immigration status eligibility exclusion to full-scope Medi-Cal for undocumented elders as soon as possible to prevent harm during this pandemic.
As health systems become overburdened with COVID-19 case loads, the state must support licensed community clinics and health centers, which provide essential health services to underserved communities and low-income neighborhoods regardless of a family's ability to pay for care. Local clinics and community health centers are California’s health care safety net for many neighborhoods that lack access to critically needed services, and they provide essential care for California's ethnically diverse neighborhoods, women, and children. While full service hospitals and larger health systems are also important, these local clinics get by with minimal support and urgently need assistance to respond during this emergency.
Telehealth services are critical during shelter-in-place to give families access to health screenings and to reduce the burden of in-person patient visits. The legislature should waive telehealth medical fees and copays during this time to encourage more Californians to seek preventative screening and consultation and stop the spread of COVID-19.
In an emergency, a patient may unknowingly be taken to a hospital that is outside of their medical network and get stuck with a huge bill not covered by insurance. AB 1611 (Chiu) would provide oversight and require that out-of-network emergency care services be offered at the same cost as a patient’s in-network provider at the time of billing. We stand with Health Access and partners to urge the legislature to pass this urgently-needed bill and the governor to sign it into law. We must ensure that low income California families who are already negatively impacted by this financial crisis are not also burdened with excessive medical fees and debt.
Research shows that the spread of COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting communities of color throughout the nation, both in frequency and severity, with especially elevated rates of illness and death in Black and Latinx communities. The disparate exposure is due to a number of systemic issues including lack of healthcare access, implicit bias of healthcare providers, and greater likelihood of exposure to the virus due to living conditions, unemployment, or “essential worker” status. As hospitals and medical centers respond to treat patients they must have resources and capacity for collecting data on important demographic indicators (e.g, race, ethnicity, gender identity, age, zip code, and socioeconomic status) and reporting them to the State Department of Public Health for transparency. Data transparency is an important accountability measure that will help ensure resources, support, and relief get prioritized to the communities most disproportionately affected by the pandemic as a result of systematic and historical burdens.
The compounding impacts of rising unemployment, stress, and trauma from COVID-19 are contributing to an alarming increase in reported domestic violence incidents. While this impacts everyone, low income and unemployed women, LGBTQ people, and gender expressive individuals in particular can be more prone to experiencing this kind of abuse. As hospitals and medical centers intake patients, they must prioritize screening for domestic and intimate partner violence and need adequate state and funding to connect patients with essential counseling, therapy, and support services.
- Immediate fare-free services: In this crisis, requiring transit operators to take fares from riders represents a danger to both transit operators and passengers, all of whom need to practice social distancing. Right now, the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District and Santa Clara Valley Transit Agency have both waived fares for services. Other agencies need incentives to do this, and emergency funding for transit (discussed further below) will be critical.
- Permanent free transit passes for vulnerable riders and essential workers: In the long run, California should formally establish fare-free transit passess for youth, college students, and seniors using the funding sources listed below, and should explore doing likewise for essential workers. This approach represents a critical part of the recovery package that will help vulnerable populations get back to school, jobs, and to health care.
The emergency transit funding currently allocated by the federal government will not be sufficient, and the state of California must provide additional support both for short-term emergency relief and for our long-term recovery efforts. Potential sources of funding to pursue this and other transit operations priorities include:
- Pass emergency legislation that temporarily moves all funds from the Transit and Intercity Rail and Capital Program, a competitive grant program for large capital projects, to the Low Carbon Transit Operations Program, state funding that is distributed to nearly every California transit agency. California must shift funding from expanding new transit stations to instead prioritizing immediate, essential bus and rail operations.
- Redirect all legally-moveable funds (minus bicycle and pedestrian projects) from the State Transportation Improvement Program, and a minimum of 30 percent of the Trade Corridor Enhancement and Solutions for Congested Corridors programs, to transit operations. This transfer would provide $180 million to keep transit running, while maintaining funding to improve biking and walking infrastructure -- which is critical to keep our population healthy and well-connected to transit.
The COVID-19 crisis has left many families unable to pay utility bills.Low-income programs like LifeLine (which provides low-income households with discounted communications services) and CARE/ESAP (which provide low-income households with discounted energy services and free weatherization) form an essential part of the safety net for Californians who have lost their jobs or cannot afford to keep connected to these services. However, current income eligibility thresholds exclude too many Californians who have been severely affected by COVID-19. California must ease our communities’ burden of paying for critical utility services. It must ensure that its low-income utility programs include all people and their households who have been impacted by the pandemic by immediately modifying low-income utility programs’ eligibility requirements.
California must ensure the health and safety of families impacted by COVID-19 by prohibiting utility shutoffs for at least one year beyond the end date of the state of emergency. The state should confirm that electric and gas utilities have reconnected any customers who were previously disconnected for nonpayment. These shutoff prohibitions should extend and apply to all public and private utilities and service providers beyond CPUC-regulated providers, including communications, electric, gas, and water municipal corporations, municipal utility districts, and public utility districts. This suspension of shutoffs and restoration of services should remain in place for at least a one-year recovery period beyond the end date of the state of emergency to allow families to recover financially from unemployment and other economic impacts.
The temporary prohibition of utility disconnections does not guarantee uninterrupted delivery of utility services to impacted residential customers who cannot afford to pay their bills. California must ensure that households experiencing financial hardships continue to have access to utility services by doing the following:
- Eliminate utility debt accrued during the crisis.
- Expand bill payment assistance, set up arrearage forgiveness, and create flexible, long-term payment plans to reduce utility cost burdens.
- Suspend all late fees and penalties due to non-payment of bills.
- Suspend all debt collection.
- Create special utility rates to ease cost burdens for income-qualified customers.
The state must ensure that costs incurred by utilities from implementing customer protections in response to COVID-19 are not passed on to ratepayers. Any cost recovery that increases utility bills would further exacerbate our communities’ hardship.
California must scale up its support for low-income weatherization and energy efficiency. Decarbonizing (discussed in more detail below) and making our existing building stock energy efficient locks in public health and safety for residents and businesses, lowers consumer risk from high gas prices in the future, and supports recovery of the local workforce and economy. California must structure energy efficiency and building decarbonization funding to start with low- and moderate-income residents, affordable housing, small businesses, and buildings that provide services for impacted communities.
Small, diverse nonprofits are the first place that low-income, vulnerable communities turn to for support during a crisis. For those small nonprofits with budgets at or below $2 million, Greenlining urges the state of California to create a grant or forgivable loan fund that subsidizes their operating expenses for the next 18 months. These organizations are all incurring increased costs as the communities they serve grapple with COVID-19 and turn to them for support. While federal assistance will enable some of these organizations to maintain staff at their current level, we urge the governor and legislature to maximize the invaluable resource these nonprofits represent for low-income communities and communities of color throughout the state.
For nonprofits with government contracts, Greenlining recommends the state allow an expedited or automatic approval process for budget modifications that do not increase the contract total in order to help these organizations cope with rapidly changing conditions. This flexibility will enable nonprofits to move budget-line items associated with existing contracts to new priorities such as the cost of disinfecting facilities. Further, we urge you to direct your department heads to maximize the speed at which they reimburse the county agencies if they agree that they, in turn, will increase the speed of their payments to nonprofit service providers. This includes advance payment of the full grant amount. Many nonprofit service providers are dependent on government contracts that tie their funding to the number of families served. Greenlining requests that the administration ensure any nonprofit with a budget at or below $2 million and a current contract with the state be pre-paid the remainder of their projected annual contract amount. Pre-paying these front-line nonprofits will allow them to continue serving the communities and families that need their help the most.
California should create a tax credit that leverages philanthropy to nonprofits. Greenlining urges prompt legislation to ensure that small nonprofits can stretch donations as far as possible.
California should provide $100 million to local community development financial institutions that operate in low-income communities and communities of color to 1) put more boots on the ground as the federal fund application rolls out and 2) make available forgivable loans to businesses with under 10 employees who are unable to access federal funds. This will be essential for ethnic small businesses that do not qualify for the current Paycheck Protection Program.
The current shelter-in-place directives are essential to protect our communities' health, but they leave many small businesses, especially restaurants, paying rent for space that is illegal for them to operate. Greenlining recommends the creation of a commercial rent tax credit to offset 100 percent of the rent incurred by small, vulnerable businesses over the next six months and then some portion after that for the next 12 months. This program could build on the infrastructure of California's sophisticated Low-Income Housing Tax Credit allocation program and staff, which are already in the businesses of subsidizing real estate to support vulnerable communities.
Small business income has plummeted but fixed operating expenses, such as rent and other costs, have remained static. Greenlining recommends an extension of the existing payroll tax waiver for an additional six months next filing season. We also recommend that the state legislature move forward with the LLC fee waiver that is currently in the governor’s latest budget proposal. This waiver will allow entrepreneurs to protect their assets during this challenging time when, unfortunately, many of them could lose everything.
Media owned by and serving people of color will be the best at connecting with hard-to-reach populations, especially non-English speaking communities and communities that do not have access to broadband, that are often underserved by the mainstream media. Greenlining urges the state to prioritize contracting with diverse media outlets, especially as state agencies share essential updates and public health information about the impact of COVID-19.
To the maximum extent possible, the state should work with financial institutions to continue suspending mortgage payments for homeowners and landlords, and pursue options to forgive rent obligations for the duration of the crisis, including a recovery period after the state of emergency is lifted. Economic relief and displacement protections should not be limited to property owners – the state must also prioritize rent forgiveness for tenants who are at grave risk of losing their homes . In addition to the suspension of mortgage payments, the impacts of rent forgiveness may also be offset in some cases by emergency financial assistance predicated on the landlord’s compliance with all health, safety, and habitability laws.
Require that municipal inspectors supporting the production of housing for the homeless and supportive housing who can do that work without abridging safety rules do so, setting up remote systems or social distancing or provide assistance to establish electronic submission and issuance of building permits, plan checks and site inspections as the need arises.
Utilize the robust affordable housing financing structure in California to subsidize the rent of families at or below 60 percent of AMI. Specifically, direct CTCAC and CDLAC to convert a portion of state tax credit financing into voucher subsidies, similar to HUD’s Section 8 program. If that does not prove feasible, owners of naturally occurring affordable housing should be allowed to participate in a large scale portfolio program that subsidizes rent in their units for 15 years in return for a commitment to deep rent regulation and affordability.
State housing tax credits represent a flexible source of capital to ensure that affordable housing for low-income families continues when it is needed most. CTCAC should be directed to set a price per credit that accounts for a drop in capital due to the COVID-19 recession.