As Coloradans prepare for the spread of the coronavirus, sorting through the barrage of information emails can be difficult to manage. As a baseline, we encourage our readers to follow the guidelines provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).
Unfortunately, for those experiencing economic hardship, some of the most conventional advice to prevent the spread of the virus can be nearly impossible to implement. Direct service providers who serve these people, including case workers, medical providers, employers and concerned community members, should make special considerations for this population in preparation for the outbreak and consider the resources available pertaining to CCLP’s Focus Areas of food, health, housing and income.
Food — Food insecurity for individuals facing poverty can be exacerbated by the virus. Workers earning low wages may struggle to afford food and nutrition as they find themselves taking unpaid sick leave, or as their businesses temporarily close.
Additionally, 33 percent of students in Colorado qualify for free lunch. As schools begin to shut down, many students will lose a consistent source of food — potentially the only meal they have for the day. Families are encouraged to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Food Assistance, which provides a monthly benefit for households to buy food. To check eligibility, CCLP has created a SNAP Benefit Calculator. Applications for SNAP are filled out through the PEAK application portal. Concerned citizens, faith groups and philanthropic organizations can help with food insecurity by supporting local food banks that can help fill the gap where public benefits may fail. If you are curious to understand what efforts are happening around the state in regard to hunger, check out Colorado Blueprint to End Hunger.
Health — Denver has created drive-up sites where you can receive testing free of charge. For those who do not have insurance or have insufficient insurance coverage, Safety Net Clinics provide services regardless of insurance status. Colorado Community health Network provides a tool to find the nearest community health center.
Avoiding use of emergency departments is imperative in this time. Emergency departments should be reserved for people in dire circumstances who need immediate health assistance. If you are experiencing symptoms that do not require immediate attention, please call the CO HELP line at 303-3891687 or 1-877-462-2911 and ask if you symptoms align with the criteria for testing for COVID-19. After calling the help line, please contact your local primary care providers and inquire about telemedicine options.
Lastly, having coverage is essential for testing and treatment. Gov. Jared Polis has waived cost-sharing for testing, and CCLP has called for the state to establish a Special Enrollment Period to allow sign-ups by the more than 100,000 Coloradans who lack coverage but who are eligible for subsidized coverage.
Housing — For Coloradans working hourly, self-quarantining and social distancing means losing income and consequently may have trouble paying rent. Landlords should consider deferring evictions and reevaluating their late-fee policies for those who have no choice but to delay payment. While temporary policies are being developed, such as the eviction moratorium imposed in other cities, there are resources available for those who struggle to pay rent and are at risk for eviction. For housing financial assistance programs, Colorado Apartment Association has published the Colorado Housing Financial Assistance Guide, which lists resources available by region.
In addition to those who are at risk of losing their home, those experiencing homelessness have increased risk of catching the coronavirus. As mentioned in this 9News piece, homeless shelters are finding themselves running out of hand sanitizer. Those who can are encouraged to donate hand sanitizer and other disinfectant cleaning products to their local homeless shelters. As per the recommendations of Centers for Disease Control (CDC), homeless shelters should post fliers, in multiple languages, disseminate information about the virus. The Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs has produced a series of multilingual flyers including Spanish, Vietnamese, Russian, Mandarin, Arabic, Chinese, Burmese, French, Kirundi, Arabic, Nepali, Somali and Swahili.
Income — Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is another public benefit program that assists families with children who are struggling to obtain their basic needs. Applications for TANF are also through the PEAK portal. However, employers should reconsider their paid sick time policies.
The Economic Policy Institute recently published a blog post that showed that there are large disparities across industries for paid sick days off. For example, 91 percent of people in the financial industry get paid sick days, whereas only 48 percent leisure and hospitality workers have access to this benefit. Out of those that do have paid sick days, 73 percent will not have sufficient days to take for the course of the coronavirus illness. In light of recent events, we encourage employers to take a more generous approach to their leave policies as a sick workforce could jeopardize the entire economy.
Although there are a currently few resources available to mitigate the economic consequences, the COVID-19 pandemic further illuminates gaps in the policies that prevent or ameliorate the effects of poverty. For more information on policy implications, check out this recent blog by CCLP’s Bob Mook and Bethany Pray.
– By Christina Yebuah