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Remaining the North Star During A Pandemic

May 8, 2020

The Advocates calls on the State of Minnesota to lead in supporting communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Federal Government has provided crucial assistance to some families, but that legislation excludes many members of our communities. For example, the Federal CARES Act restricts stimulus funds from many mixed-status families; unemployment benefits are not available for many self-employed or undocumented workers; and additional federal benefits have gaps, such as students who cannot file for themselves but also may not be counted as dependents by their families. These gaps place individuals in vulnerable positions where they may be forced to remain in abusive or exploitative relationships or employment situations and mean that Minnesotans will become homeless due the pandemic, prolonging its consequences. As a leader working to reduce violence against women and human trafficking, The Advocates knows all too well the multiplier effects economic vulnerabilities have on our communities. Minnesota can only thrive if we are all thriving. COVID-19 is a public health emergency that does not discriminate. Therefore, our emergency funding and legislation must not discriminate either.

Luckily, several important bills have been introduced that would ensure Minnesotans work together to get through this crisis together. We call on our leaders in the Minnesota legislature to pass the following bills and continue to guarantee that we remain the North Star that promotes community.

Please call or write your legislators and encourage them to support SF 4540/HF 4611 on Emergency Community Relief Grants and SF 4495/HF 4541 on Protection from Eviction and Foreclosure.

SF 4540 and HF 4611, which would provide $50 million for emergency community relief grants that would allow eligible nonprofit organizations to make grants to individuals experiencing financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Individuals would be eligible for up to $1,500 if they are not eligible to receive other state or federal emergency relief. These bills will support those who cannot receive unemployment benefits such as self-employed or non-citizen individuals; those who would not receive unemployment benefits at a rate that is commensurate with their earnings, such as tipped employees whose earnings do not accurately reflect income; and individuals such as adult dependents, minor or college-aged dependents, or others who were not required to file taxes for the past two years, and adults who are elderly or disabled but are not receiving Social Security benefits. The grants would be specifically targeted to pay for food, emergency household items, rent support, utility bills, and other similar expenses.

SF 4495 and HF 4541, which provide protection from eviction or foreclosure during a public health emergency, and which provide funding to help cover housing expenses due to COVID-19. These bills not only protect homeowners or renters without status and mixed-status households, but also reduce risk of trafficking and other harms that might occur should someone be forced to either remain in dangerous situations/relationships to meet rent/mortgage payments or face homelessness where they are more likely to become victims of crimes. The bill also ensures security in the housing market by reducing foreclosures and maintaining homeownership by Minnesotans. To be eligible for funding, applicants must: (1) have a public-health-related emergency; (2) have a specific housing-related payment due March 1, 2020, or later, that is past due; (3) be unable to pay the money owed because of the public health emergency; and (4) be a household, with a current gross income under 300 percent of the federal poverty guidelines at the time of application or as averaged over the previous 12 months, whichever is lower.

By Lindsey Greising, Staff Attorney for The Advocates for Human Rights