WE STAND Together

A working families agenda for North Dakota’s COVID-19 response

With families and individuals in North Dakota staring down economic ruin, insurmountable medical costs and uncertainty in the face of this pandemic, we join together to recommend policies to support working families and ask to work together with North Dakota legislators and the Governor on policies that address issues for working families during the COVID-19 crisis and into the future.

View the April 29th press conference hosted by North Dakota Voices Network

“WE STAND Together” seven areas of public policy:

Worker Safety

Eviction Moratorium

Streamline and Modernize Unemployment

Time to Care for Family – Paid Sick Leave, Expanded Family and Medical Leave

Access to Food

No Gap in Health Coverage

Dependable state agencies and workforce

Worker Safety

We must implement mandatory safety protocols for essential employers to ensure front-line workers who place their health and safety on the line every day are protected by common-sense, easily implemented measures.

Nurses, other health care personnel, and first responders are laying it all on the line for the rest of us every day. Truckers, grocery store checkout staff, employees stocking shelves, and many others, are also doing everything they can to provide Americans with the services and supplies they need.

We recommend:

  • Mandating all employers provide PPE, including masks and gloves, and that workers wear PPE during the workday. We further recommend the state provide grants to small businesses to purchase PPEs and other safeguards.

  • Ensuring social distancing practices are implemented across the workplace at all times where possible.

  • Safety practices are clearly posted throughout the workplace and are in appropriate languages.

  • Sanitizing frequent touchpoints with disinfectants and daily cleaning of work areas, as well as time and opportunity to wash hands and self care.

  • Strong, clear, and enforceable workplace health and safety standards must be in place and workers must not be threatened, coerced or disciplined for following said standards. Workers must also be protected from retaliation should they speak out about health and safety concerns at their place of employment.

Eviction Moratorium

Elected leaders should provide a temporary moratorium on evictions, allowing North Dakotans to remain safe and secure – which will also maintain a healthier environment throughout our communities.

The threat of loss of housing during this pandemic is real – especially for those whose income has been impacted because of job loss, falling ill to the virus, or quarantine. Loss of shelter is the exact opposite of what we need to do to keep North Dakotans safe. A temporary moratorium on eviction actions would allow people to remain stably housed as they safeguard their health and the health of their families and other North Dakotans. Further, loss of housing during a crisis like this is contradictory to the moral imperatives held by North Dakotans of all denominations.

We recommend:

  • North Dakota join numerous states, counties, and cities across the U.S. and implements an immediate temporary eviction moratorium for the state of North Dakota.

Streamline and Modernize Unemployment

During this time of crisis, Unemployment Insurance must be upgraded to become more user-friendly with clear communications of rights and responsibilities. UI must be fully funded with benefits at levels to keep working families healthy and in their homes.

Record numbers of North Dakota workers are accessing their Unemployment Insurance benefits for the first time and many cracks are starting to show on this aging system. At this time of severe financial stress, North Dakotans deserve an unemployment insurance system that is easy to navigate.

We recommend:

  • State government modernize the user interface to be more user friendly and compliant with all ADA accessibility requirements.

  • Application and weekly verification be upgraded and easier to navigate.

  • Increase benefits and ensure full funding for Unemployment Insurance.

  • Full accountability for system design and process.

Time to Care for Family – Paid Sick Leave, Expanded Family and Medical Leave

Working people should not lose their income due to being sick or taking care of a loved one who is sick. State legislators can fill the gaps to include employers over 500 and under 50, as well as include coverage for those taking care of any family member, not just children.

With Paid Family Leave, North Dakota businesses can support families during the most difficult and stressful periods of life. Paid Family Leave is a common-sense plan that allows North Dakota workers the assurance to care for a sick loved one without fear of losing an income.

We recommend (as per the Families First Coronavirus Response Act):

  • Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular rate of pay where the employee is unable to work because the employee is quarantined (pursuant to Federal, State, or local government order or advice of a healthcare provider), and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis; or

  • Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay because the employee is unable to work because of a bona fide need to care for an individual subject to quarantine (pursuant to Federal, State, or local government order or advice of a healthcare provider), or to care for a child (under 18 years of age) whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19, and/or the employee is experiencing a substantially similar condition as specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of the Treasury and Labor; and

  • Up to an additional 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay where an employee, who has been employed for at least 30 calendar days, is unable to work due to a bona fide need for leave to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19.

  • More information from the North Dakota Women's Network

Access to Food

Access to healthful and affordable food is critical to all North Dakotans. Our state’s leaders must fully utilize federal nutrition programs, support food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens, and provide credit relief to keep family farmers and ranchers on the land.

COVID-19 has disrupted businesses, communities, and the lives of North Dakotans from one end of the state to the other. This, in turn, has disrupted access to food – especially for our neighbors who live on the margins.

We recommend:

  • State leaders and agencies fully utilize federal nutrition programs and support food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens, taking advantage of all the waivers put in place. The WIC program, licensed child care, Head Start, school meals programs, senior meal programs, commodity food distribution programs and SNAP (formerly food stamps) all bring federal funding to help North Dakota people get food on the table.

  • Encouraging federal leaders to increase SNAP by 15 percent for the duration of the economic crisis and its minimum monthly value from $15.00 to $30.00.

  • Developing more connections between local food producers and local eaters.

  • An “all hands on deck” recognition for food access – from farming & ranching, hunting & fishing and gardening, to grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, long term care, and other institutional settings where people find their food. The hands that bring us our food and their lives are of value, and we need to protect the workers who get us our food, from farm to table.

  • Providing credit relief to keep family farmers and ranchers on the land.

No Gap in Health Coverage

No North Dakotan should be without access to high-quality, affordable care amid a global pandemic. North Dakota’s leaders should advance an “all of the above” healthcare strategy, guaranteeing access to public and private coverage and increasing support to health care providers.

North Dakota must expand access to affordable, high-quality health care. The COVID-19 pandemic has put major stress on North Dakota’s health care system. As people lose jobs, many lose their health coverage. As of April 16, the Economic Policy Institute estimated that 20,000 North Dakota workers have likely lost their employer-provided health insurance since mid-March. At the same time, many individuals who have been fortunate to maintain coverage have lost income and are struggling to pay their premiums and deductibles.

Farm and ranch families across North Dakota often rely on second and even third jobs for supplemental income and health insurance. Loss of insurance will create a significant strain on already distressed families across the state. In addition, health care providers are struggling to provide high quality care on tighter margins.

We recommend:

  • Increasing marketplace tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies.

  • Streamlining Medicaid application process for newly unemployed individuals.

  • Opening a special enrollment period on the ACA exchange.

  • Ensuring free COVID-19 treatment for all individuals.

  • Providing direct support to hospitals, clinics, and community health centers.

Dependable State Agencies and Workforce

State leadership must ensure education support professionals are paid in full, protect state employees from job reductions, and commit to immediately investing resources in our institutions of higher education, while simultaneously working to ensure steady funding through the creation of a higher education stabilization fund.

North Dakota’s educators and public servants are a crucial part of our communities’ response to COVID-19. K-12 educators have ensured our children are still learning in a safe environment. State workers have been, and will continue to be, on the frontlines of getting North Dakotans the resources and support they need to weather this public health and economic storm. Our institutions of higher education are critical drivers of economic activity in so many North Dakota communities and their research will be invaluable in our recovery.

We recommend:

  • Education Support Professionals (ESPs) are paid in full for the remainder of the school year. The Governor and Superintendent of Public Instruction have said it is their hope and expectation that these workers are paid fully. The State Aid payments have been made to districts and these workers ought to be paid.

  • No furloughs or layoffs for state employees. The demand for public services like unemployment is higher than ever and this is the wrong time to reduce the number of dedicated public servants ready and able to help North Dakotans.

  • Commitment to immediately investing resources in our institutions of higher education, while simultaneously working to ensure steady funding through the creation of a higher education stabilization fund. Our institutions of higher education are economic drivers in our communities and will be critical for North Dakotans looking to retrain and rebuild after the pandemic.