BCPRC COVID-19 Emergency Response for Justice
Who accesses the health care, social distancing and sanitation they need, and who remains at risk, unprotected, and uncared for? Who goes hungry at home while others hoard food and supplies? The greatest inequities of our time are writ large in the face of a crisis such as COVID-19. It strikes at the heart of our communities and reveals the ugliness of existing human rights violations in this province. A public health crisis such as this reveals our greatest failures as a rich, developed nation to equitably protect the lives, livelihoods and health of all community members regardless of income, citizenship, or job status.
A targeted emergency response recommendation that centres equity must address the needs of those most at-risk due to inequality, poverty, and exclusion. Emergency measures must target the following: low-wage and precarious workers and all workers, the unsheltered and sheltered homeless, those who live in crowded, unsafe housing, those who are low-income and isolated due to existing health conditions and/or poor health, migrants, immigrants, those with precarious immigration status, those in substance-use, those in survival sex work, women and children escaping domestic violence, and low-income seniors. This crisis requires an equity-based, comprehensive suite of emergency policies that address safety, health and justice for all.
“Crises do not affect us all equally – migrant, poor, and racialized communities will be the first excluded from response measures and the worst affected by the economic downturn.” Migrant Rights Network
This is the first e-blast in the COVID-19 Public Progress Alert series the BCPRC will release throughout the crisis to our largest list of supporters. Progress Alerts will highlight the unfolding work of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, our members and allies, and the collective advocacy we must undertake to ensure safety, health and economic justice for all during the COVID-19 crisis. We will also monitor local, provincial and federal progress to mitigate the impact of the crisis on those facing systemic health and economic inequities.
This morning, we released a press release and BCPRC COVID-19 Emergency Response for Justice recommending a suite of urgent emergency actions we recommend our provincial government take, working with all ministries across government. We also highlight and expressed our full support for 36 recommendations made by Coalition members and allies.
The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition calls on the Province of British Columbia to:
*Provide an immediate significant monthly raise to income and disability rates in BC, with immediate distribution.
*End all the claw backs of both earned and unearned income from those on income and disability assistance to allow people to retain as much income as possible.
*Provide provincial financial support for those who are not eligible for Employment Insurance benefits.
*Implement a province-wide moratorium on all evictions.
*Seize hotel, hostel, and other available shelter assets throughout the province to provide those who are homeless and unsheltered, and those sheltered in unsafe, crowded conditions, a safe place to live and access sanitation for a minimum of 3 months, with planning in place to ensure transition to viable long-term homes after.
*Organize and fund a province-wide, province-led emergency home food delivery system, in collaboration with municipalities, targeting low-income households isolated at home due to existing health conditions, age status and general risk to COVID-19, and increase funding for non profit front-line community agencies providing meal programs in B.C. to purchase what they need.
*Implement a six-month period of repayment relief for all holders of provincial student loans, effective immediately.
The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition expresses support for the implementation of 36 urgent recommendations released by BCPRC members and allies. The recommendations target multiple levels of government, categorized by the BCPRC into the following action areas: Housing Vulnerability, Worker Safety, Health Care, Migrant Rights, Homelessness & At-Risk Neighbourhoods, and Income Protection. The 36 recommendations are listed below.
Immediate moratorium on all evictions. (Vancouver Tenants Union, BC ACORN, VDLC, others)
Immediately suspend all mortgage and rent payments until the pandemic is over. (BCGEU)
Make all essential workers eligible for presumptive workers compensation coverage (BCFED, UFCW, BCFED)
Apply limits to the number of shoppers allowed in retail locations. (UFCW)
Provide solutions to workers’ emergency childcare needs. (UFCW)
Ensure that childcare centres that remain open have smaller groups in appropriate spaces to encourage social distancing, and arrival and pick up times are staggered to prevent clusters of people and maintain social distancing. (BCGEU)
Access to paid emergency leave as needed, with a minimum of 21 days for all workers, regardless of immigration status. (Migrant Rights Network)
Access without fear – regardless of immigration status – to free, universal, and expanded healthcare, including testing. (Migrant Rights Network)
Set the health care escalator to 5.2% a year, as agreed upon by the provinces and health advocates. (CCPA)
Create a National Seniors Care Strategy. It would start by ramping up spending on long-term care, from 1.3% of GDP to 2% of GDP, with $800 million in the first year, and would target home care funding, which is set to expire in two years. (CCPA)
Enact an immediate moratorium on all immigration enforcement (detentions and deportations). (Migrant Rights Network)
Work permit and permanent resident status rules must be relaxed or removed, and open permits granted swiftly to workers in transition. (Migrant Rights Network)
HOMELESSNESS & AT RISK NEIGHBOURHOODS
To implement an appropriate and comprehensive COVID-19 pandemic plan for people living in Oppenheimer Park and other homeless people, that is immediately resourced, culturally safe, and actionable. (CCAP and allies)
To immediately open the field housing in Oppenheimer Park and create an emergency on-site screening and triage station. (same as above, and below)
Cease all ‘street sweeps’ and daily displacement of homeless people from public places so they can ‘shelter in place’.
Provide accessible and actionable information to people who are currently living outdoors and in shelters.
Permit empty rooms in SROs to be rented to the homeless if needed by the most vulnerable and in-need homeless people to quarantine or self-isolate.
Provide a meal and food distribution program, on-site mobile hand washing and sanitizing stations, mobile shower and laundry services, and extra washrooms to provide sanitation and minimize the need for lineups and over-crowding.
To provide survival supports for sex workers so that they are not forced into more dire situations due to loss of business.
To put on hold public hearings relating to (municipal) Park Bylaws, conditional injunction and anything else relating to displacement or eviction of homeless people.
Support cleaning in shelters and SROs and inform and educate residents and service providers with information about what people should do and what they can expect.
Removal of the waiting period for workers accessing Employment Insurance as a result of COVID-19-related layoffs. (VDLC)
Encourage all retailers to supply workers on duty with masks, sanitizers, and paper towels. (UFCW)
Extend EI benefits to at least 75% of insurable income and reduce barriers to EI. (UFCW)
Reduce the number of working hours required to qualify for EI to 360 hours for regular and special benefits. (like sickness leave) (CCPA)
Double the EI sickness benefit from 15 weeks to 30 weeks. (CCPA)
Create a $300/week floor on benefits for low-income claimants to EI. (CCPA)
Legislated changes to the Employment Standards Act to secure immediate and retroactive job protection for workers who take sick leave, including workers that self-isolate, or are quarantined. (BC FED)
Provision of paid sick leave for all workers, including part-time and casual workers, temporary foreign workers and migrant workers, throughout the duration of isolation or quarantine. (BC FED, VDLC) IN PROGRESS
Access to income supports/transfers for workers that fall outside of current definitions of employees, including independent contractors and the self-employed. (BC FED)
Immediate waiving of any requirement for doctor’s notes for any worker. (BC FED)
Enhancement of Employment Insurance (EI) benefits during the crisis to at least 75% of insurable income, reduction of barriers to access EI, and allocation of extra support staff at Service Canada to help smoothly administer the access to EI. (BC FED) IN PROGRESS
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation should immediately provide a pool of capital to existing or new rent banks across the country so that those who can’t make the rent because of falling incomes or illness don’t lose their housing too. (BC ACORN)
Payment freeze on all high interest loans with no penalty. The federal government should also mandate that the banks and major lenders extend the mortgage default period and/or defer mortgage payments over the next six months, as Italy has done. (BC ACORN) IN PROGRESS
Allowing more of the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) to be kept by seniors receiving Canada Pension Plan revenue and increasing the base value of the GIS by up to $1,000 will help sustain these seniors’ incomes. (CCPA)
Thank you very much, and please stay tuned for more from the BCPRC as this crisis unfolds.