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Coalition demands swift city, county COVID-19 response

Tuesday, March 17, 2020 by Nina Hernandez

A coalition of area advocacy organizations hosted a press conference Monday stressing the importance of providing effective solutions to the most vulnerable populations in our communities.

The organizations, which include Grassroots Leadership, Workers Defense Project, Austin EMS Association, Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, Youth Rise Texas, Community of Color United for Racial Justice, and Texas Fair Defense Project, said the COVID-19 pandemic “warrants an unprecedented, swift and necessary response” from local authorities.

The accompanying letter was addressed to the Austin mayor and City Council, the Travis County judge and commissioners, Sheriff Sally Hernandez, District Attorney Margaret Moore, County Attorney David Escamilla, and the district and county court at law judges.

In particular, the city and county should focus on immigrant communities, imprisoned people, the elderly, unsheltered people and people with disabilities.

“If the Austin community is expected to be as prepared as possible and keep our most vulnerable safe, we need county and city officials to ensure that all community members feel safe to ask for help and limit interaction with law enforcement as much as possible, whether it’s on the streets, in court, or in jails,” said Claudia Muñoz, acting executive director of Grassroots Leadership.

“Other cities have taken bold action,” Muñoz continued. “It’s time we do the same.”

The letter demands an aggressive public education campaign, emergency welfare guarantees, a suspension of eviction court and other housing-related measures, workers rights, medical care, expanded emergency services, elder care, disability rights, modified public transportation, and suspension or delay of any public events.

The coalition is also calling for changes to shelter and jail operations, limits on police contacts and stops and a suspension of all operations of courts handling class C misdemeanor cases.

The group also noted that 200,000 workers in the greater Austin area do not have access to paid sick leave, and that the city’s 2018 paid sick leave ordinance has been stymied by the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

“This, however, should not stop our local government leaders from urging area businesses to provide the necessary protective equipment to working employees and to implement emergency paid sick leave policies now,” said Ana Gonzalez, policy director at Workers Defense Project. “The health and safety of their employees, their customers and our entire community depend on it.”

Read the full letter and complete list of the organizations signed on here.

Photo by Jim Nix made available through a Creative Commons license.

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