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What To Tell Your State Elected Officials to Do About Coronavirus

The COVID-19 crisis has already produced a massive federal response to provide additional support to workers and families and to mitigate the effects of the upcoming recession. But it isn’t nearly enough. Up until now, the federal response has had major gaps and millions of Americans will face increased hardship as a result. 

That’s why it’s so important that state governments act immediately to provide additional support for individuals and families affected by the crisis.  There are dozens of state and local policies that should be enacted to ensure the public response to coronavirus covers peoples’ needs, particularly those of low-income and vulnerable people and communities. 

You can look up your state representatives and your governor online to get started.

What can state governments do about coronavirus?

State and local governments are very well-suited to supplement federal services and serve the needs of marginalized communities during this time. State governments in particular have lots of authority to protect their constituents’ health: governors can issue broad stay at home measures during emergencies such as this one and depending on the state, legislatures and/or governors can expand Medicaid. 

You can take action to ensure that your state fills in the gaps left behind by the federal response, such as paid sick leave for all. You can also advocate for policies that are outside the scope of the federal government’s authority, like Medicaid expansion.

Who should you ask?

Should you work with your state or local government?

Both! At this moment, we need action at all levels of government, which means you should call your local elected officials, like your representative on the city council and your mayor. You should also call your state representatives and governor. It’s every elected official’s job to support their constituents through this pandemic. 

Each state is different and you may have more success on the state or local level, depending on your area’s political landscape. You may choose to focus your attention where you have the most progressive representatives and therefore the best chance at success, but if you have the bandwidth, we recommend casting a wide net and working with both state and local officials. 

Note that in some states hard hit by coronavirus, legislators and their staff are working remotely. We expect that this will only increase in the coming weeks. If you are unable to reach your representatives’ offices by phone, you can use e-mail and social media to get in touch.

If you are unsure what makes the most sense for your area, your Indivisible organizer can help you strategize. You can also ask yourself these questions:

  • What are state and local progressive advocacy groups recommending? Pay particular attention to groups that represent and are led by vulnerable people and communities.

  • What is my city and state already doing? The National Conference of State Legislatures is tracking state action here.

  • Where can I have the most influence: at the state or local level? Where are there progressive elected officials with power? 

What can you do at the state level? 

It’ll depend on your state, but chances are that the biggest opportunity for immediate action will be through your governor. (In some states, your legislature may also be working on a coronavirus response.) 

Most of the time, we don’t recommend lobbying a governor directly - your legislators have a much smaller number of constituents and are typically more responsive to pressure. However, this is a crisis moment, and governors know that we are looking to them to lead the way. In this instance, we believe that governors are more susceptible than usual to public pressure.

If you have the bandwidth, cast a wide net and pressure both your governor and legislators, especially if your statehouse is still in session.

If you are unsure what makes the most sense for your area, your Indivisible organizer can help you strategize. You can also ask yourself these questions:

  • Is my legislature still in session? They may have already adjourned for the year or postponed session to limit the spread of Covid.

  • What are state and local progressive advocacy groups recommending? Pay particular attention to groups that represent and are led by vulnerable people and communities.

  • Who has the power to enact the policies I’m interested in? Some actions can only be taken by your executive or legislative branch, and some can be done by either. 

  • In which branch are there progressive representatives with power? 

How is your state administering federal money?

One other thing you can do is help make sure the federal assistance your state receives is being used effectively. States are responsible for administering federal Covid relief funding, which means keeping an eye on how this money is distributed is important. The funding should prioritize public health and protecting marginalized and vulnerable communities. Hold your elected officials accountable if they aren’t adhering to the principles of the People’s Bailout. Remember to use social media to shed light on any abuses or mismanagement.

 

What you should ask them to do?

As with our federal advocacy, our coronavirus state advocacy follows the five guiding principles of the People’s Bailout. Some of these principles have natural avenues for state policy that the federal government either can’t or has failed to implement. Where it’s relevant, we’ve included our top policy suggestions for each principle that you can be making at the state level.

  1. Health for all 

    1. State at home orders — If your state hasn’t already done so, demand that your Governor issue an equitably-enforced stay at home order to reduce transmission without further criminalizing poor communities of color.  

    2. Medicaid — There are still 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid. If your state is one of them, call your governor or state representative and demand that they do. And wherever you live, make sure that your state’s presumptive eligibility standards allow all people to enroll in Medicaid.

    3. Health for all — Undocumented immigrants have been left out of the federal response but your state can help fill the gap. Demand that your state specify that COVID-19 testing and treatment can be covered through emergency Medicaid. This would allow otherwise eligble undocumented immigrants to receive care for COVID-19 through state Medicaid programs.

    4. Incarcerated individuals — The safest place to be is at home, which is why states should release as many people as possible from state and local prisons, jails and detention centers.

  2. Economic relief for all

    1. Unemployment Insurance (UI) — UI is administered at the state level, which means state governments can adjust some of their eligibility rules. Demand that they eliminate unnecessary barriers that are keeping workers from claiming benefits. 

    2. Housing — States and local governments have the power to issue a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. They can also establish rental assistance funds and work with lenders to freeze mortgage payments. Ask your governor to keep families in their homes during this crisis. 

    3. Utilities — Demand that your local and state governments issue a moratorium on utility shut offs to keep people and families safe. 

    4. Nutrition assistance — Like for UI, states can relax some of their eligibility rules for SNAP (nutrition assistance) to make it more accessible. 

  3. For workers, not corporations 

    1. The best opportunities will be at the federal level, so check out our resource.

  4. Down payment on a regenerative economy 

    1. The best opportunities will be at the federal level, so check out our resource.

  5. Protecting our democracy

    1. Voting — The federal response has so far failed to provide the amount of money needed to secure our elections and to ensure that everyone who wants to vote is able to do so. But states have the power to expand vote by mail or absentee voting. See if your state can do more here.

    2. Signature match reform — Some states have been able to disenfranchise people by using signature “inconsistencies” to throw out a person’s ballot. Make sure that your state isn’t one of them. 

    3. Personal protective equipment It’s the responsibility of your state government to make sure that poll workers have everything they need to safely do their jobs. Demand that they provide enough sanitization supplies and equipment to poll workers at in-person voting locations.