Enact a local State of Emergency for Rolla, MO to prevent the spread of Covid-19

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Author: Deanne Lyons

To Whom It May Concern:


Rather than react, let’s be proactive and prevent the spread of COVID-19 while Rolla still has time. Rural US areas are expected to have a spike in COVID-19 cases by mid-April (Parshley, 2020). Missouri, in general, is already experiencing a public health crisis (Holman, 2019). COVID-19 affects and will continue to affect our poor and working-class community members the most, only exacerbating the state of emergency they already endure every day (KC Tenants, 2020). Food insecurity, homelessness, and health crises existed long before COVID-19 and that we must take action now as well as in the future to protect our communities. 

Rolla is home to some 20,000 people and counting, with 1,669 people per square mile. 31% of Rolla residents are living below the poverty line, including children, which is about 6,200 total people. 24% of Rolla’s residents are 50+ years old, which is about 4,800 people. About 1,400 Rolla residents are veterans, and we know COVID-19 affects those with other underlying conditions, like many veterans, have (Veterans Affairs, 2020). 58% of Rolla residents are renters, which comes out to be about 11,600 people. And approximately 13% of properties in Rolla are vacant, which is around 1,165 empty homes (Census Reporter, 2018). These numbers represent many things, but most importantly they show us the people who will be permanently affected in our community if we do nothing. Phelps Health has confirmed that COVID-19 is in Phelps county and is in Rolla (Amos, 2020); we cannot afford to continue without intervention.  

With some precautions taken, it’s still estimated that 2% of the population could die due to COVID-19 (Our World in Data, 2020). If only 2% of the Rolla population dies during this pandemic, that is 400 people, and that doesn’t take into account their loved ones who will also be permanently affected by their preventable deaths. Which 400 people is Rolla’s leadership willing to sacrifice here in favor of business as usual? Name them. Otherwise, we must take swift and serious action to protect the people of Rolla, all of them, to the best of our abilities. 

People who are housing-insecure or currently homeless are at a higher risk of being exposed to the virus, becoming ill, and suffering catastrophic health outcomes. 

Low-income tenants are also at risk if they get ill and/or cannot work (because they're monitoring symptoms, at risk, watching kids, etc.) and therefore can't make their rent (KC Tenants, 2020). Relying on the good will of property owners is not proper policy; we need local, State, and Federal action to protect the people. We, the people of Rolla, call on Mayor Lou Magdits to demand action be taken by the State Government via Governor Parson to protect all the people of Missouri.

We can and must stand united to ensure the well-being of our whole community through this crisis. Rewriting the rules to protect our most vulnerable will build a healthier and stronger Missouri for generations to come (KC Tenants, 2020). Given the CARES Act puts a moratorium on mortgages and provides aid to property/business owners, it is only just that the same privileges be extended to others (Snell, 2020). Much of the work put into finding a solution has been done by the KC Tenants organization. These demands have been created by people directly impacted by housing issues and people experiencing homelessness, as KC Tenants believes the people closest to the problems are closest to the solutions.  Rolla for Bernie 2020 recognizes that this public health crisis will affect everyone in Missouri, not just certain cities or counties. We stand in solidarity with tenants across the state and call on Mayor Lou Magdits to: 

Institute a rent/mortgage suspension or rent/mortgage freeze and fund rental assistance 
Enact an immediate, comprehensive statewide eviction/foreclosure moratorium 
Ban utility shut-offs and mandate universal service, including Internet 
Provide homes and expanded services for people experiencing homelessness 
(KC Tenants, 2020)


RENT/MORTGAGE SUSPENSION, RENT/MORTGAGE FREEZE, RENTAL ASSISTANCE (KC Tenants, 2020)

Every month, millions of Missourians pay more than they can afford to keep a roof over their head. This public health emergency will exacerbate that stress, causing millions to face substantial financial loss. We must ensure people can stay in their homes, as a matter of public safety.

Rent/mortgage suspension: The Governor should institute an immediate rent and mortgage suspension for public and private properties, suspending rent and mortgage payments in full and for the duration of the crisis. No payments, no late fees, no debt. The suspension should last through the duration of the declared state of emergency and the entire recovery period. 
Rent/mortgage level freeze and targeted assistance: If the State cannot implement a full rent/mortgage suspension, the Governor should issue an order to institute a statewide rent and mortgage freeze. The freeze should outlaw all rent increases and lock in mortgage payments at current levels. The freeze should include a ban on fees for missed or late rent/mortgage payments. 
Rental/mortgage assistance: In the absence of Federal action, the Governor should launch a statewide emergency relief fund to provide immediate rental and mortgage assistance to people who risk losing their homes because of sickness, inability to work, or any other factors related to COVID-19. This fund should launch immediately and should be accessible to all, without any means-testing, and without barriers to entry, like lengthy paperwork or application fees. 

EVICTION/FORECLOSURE MORATORIUM (KC Tenants, 2020)

No one should be displaced from their home under any circumstances during this crisis. Many other state and local governments have implemented eviction/foreclosure moratoria. Kansas passed a statewide moratorium on 3/17. 

Eviction/foreclosure moratorium: The Governor should pass a statewide moratorium on all eviction proceedings, including filings, hearings, writs, and enforcement. Using the emergency powers of the Governor, this action should block law enforcement (sheriffs, municipal police departments, and all other relevant parties) from carrying out any evictions. 
Penalties for violators: Many landlords do not adhere to legal processes when evicting tenants. That behavior is even crueler during times like these, and it should be duly punished. The Missouri legislature should determine severe penalties for banks, corporations, and individuals in violation of this moratorium, including but not limited to fines and/or loss of license to do business. 

UTILITY SHUT-OFFS BAN AND UNIVERSAL SERVICE (KC Tenants, 2020)

Utilities like water, gas, electricity, and internet should be provided as public goods, especially during a public health crisis. 

Ban on utility shut-offs: Missouri must follow the example of dozens of local and state governments by issuing a statewide ban on utility shut-offs during the pandemic. The Governor should use emergency authority to call for the ban, which should encompass water, gas, electricity, cellphones, landlines, and the internet. The ban should last through the duration of the declared state of emergency and the entire recovery period. 
Mandate for universal service: Beyond ending shut-offs, Missouri must compel localities and utility companies to restore utility services to all households, even if they faced shut-offs before the ban, and to expand them as needed to execute emergency precautions and communications. Water, gas, and electricity are critical for all households to remain safe and healthy at home. Internet must be provided, through emergency hotspots or other means, in every possible geography to ensure dissemination of accurate and timely information as well as working/schooling from home.

HOMES, EXPANDED SERVICES FOR PEOPLE EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS (KC Tenants, 2020)

Tens of thousands of Missourians sleep on the streets every night. Those numbers do not account for the people who are un-housed, living out of cars, on couches, in shelters, or in motels. People experiencing homelessness are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. 

Homes for people experiencing homelessness: If official guidance is to “stay home” to contain the spread of COVID-19, Missouri must create that possibility for people experiencing homelessness. The State government must take unprecedented action to convert vacant hotel/motel rooms, dorms, schools, hospitals, and large stadiums into homes for people who need them, including people experiencing homelessness and people living in unsafe/unsanitary (domestic violence, mold, etc.) conditions now. 
Emergency sanitation sites: For people who will not or cannot move indoors, the State must build emergency sanitation sites near homeless encampments and major public transit hubs to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Sites should include 24-hour restrooms and showers, laundry, free hygiene supplies, COVID-19 testing, caseworkers, and disease prevention information in multiple languages. 
Expanded services: The State must provide an infusion of resources to local providers for expanded homeless services. Local health departments, community health clinics, shelters, and other frontline service providers should receive this funding to cover staff overtime pay and hazard pay and necessary supplies, like sanitizers, medicine, masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE), etc. Funds should go to organizations on a condition of commitment to equity and non-discrimination. 
End to sweeps: The Governor should issue an immediate moratorium on encampment sweeps, closures, and vehicle tows. Sweeps and other practices that criminalize homelessness pose a serious health risk, as they disrupt consistent access to services and the ability for outreach and health workers to provide continuous care. 

At the local level, we call on Mayor Lou Magdits to acknowledge the severity of COVID-19/Coronavirus to the public by declaring a state of emergency. Not only is this a health and housing crisis, but it is also one of hate too. We call on Mayor Lou Magdits to officially address the virus as COVID-19 or Coronavirus and let it be known that this virus knows no race, nationality, or ethnicity (National Association of School Psychologists, 2019). We call on Mayor Lou Magdits to make it clear that Anti-Asian racism will not be tolerated in our community; Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders deserve dignity and respect. Immigrants make Rolla great, and hate towards them is equally unacceptable. Rolla is one community, and we need human solidarity now. 

We call on Mayor Lou Magdits to use the legal powers, which he has already confirmed he has, to halt rent/late fees as well as evictions and put a ban on all utility shut-offs for the duration of this crisis and throughout the entire recovery period. For the safety of those who represent Rolla, we call on Mayor Lou Magdits to begin immediate virtual meetings, allowing the public to have input. We call on Mayor Lou Magdits to put in place a Stay at Home Order and instruct the public to practice social distancing, even those without symptoms. Many people are carriers of COVID-19 but asymptomatic; however, that means they can spread the virus anywhere they go. To keep yourself and the community safe do not gather in groups inside or outside, going for walks are fine but stay 6 feet away from others as much as possible, do not go to the gym, do not let your children have playdates/sleepovers, regularly wash your hands with soap and water, only go out for essentials and buy what you need at the time (don’t hoard), self-quarantine for at least 14 days if you show symptoms of COVID-19 (dry cough, fever, fatigue, body aches, chills), and go to the hospital if those symptoms escalate or call 911 in an emergency. 

Protective measures also need to be taken for the safety of our town during this emergency. We call on Mayor Lou Magdits to demand State action so that our healthcare workers have the personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, and other resources they will need in preparation of rural outbreak; community volunteers and organizations, such as The Mission, Feeding Phelps Families, and others will also need PPE (Ulrich, 2020).  The closure of parks and other public spaces as well as non-essential businesses will be an essential step in flattening the curve so that our hospitals do not become overwhelmed like we’re seeing across our country and the world at large. We also acknowledge the many big businesses and corporate chains that will be able to circumvent such non-essential closures, but we must remind ourselves that the CARES Act expands unemployment and provides aid to those self-employed and small businesses (LaJoie, 2020). While it’s understandable that those self-employed and small business owners are scared to close for economic reasons, this is yet another reason for State intervention in the form of additional aid and resources. We call on Mayor Lou Magdits to fight on behalf of Rolla residents, especially those most vulnerable.  

 

Citations

Amos, Lori. “Phelps Health Responds to Coronavirus Pandemic, Prepares for Surge.” The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO, The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO, 30 Mar. 2020, www.therolladailynews.com/news/20200329/phelps-health-responds-to-coronavirus-pandemic-prepares-for-surge/1

“Census Profile: Rolla, MO.” Census Reporter, 2018, censusreporter.org/profiles/16000US2962912-rolla-mo/. 

“Countering COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Stigma and Racism: Tips for Parents and Caregivers.” National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), National Association of School Psychologists, 2019, www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-climate-safety-and-crisis/health-crisis-resources/countering-covid-19-(coronavirus)-stigma-and-racism-tips-for-parents-and-caregivers

Holman, Gregory J. “Missouri Ranks 43rd in a New State-by-State Health Care Scorecard.” Springfield News-Leader, News-Leader, 12 June 2019, www.news-leader.com/story/news/local/ozarks/2019/06/12/missouri-health-care-system-eighth-worst-united-states-study/1420155001/

“KC Tenants.” KC Tenants | Kansas City Tenant Org, KC Tenants , 2020, kctenants.org/.

LaJoie, Taylor. “Evaluating the Trade-Offs of Unemployment Compensation Changes in the CARES Act.” Tax Foundation, 27 Mar. 2020, taxfoundation.org/unemployment-compensation-changes-cares-act/.

Parshley, Lois. “The Coronavirus May Hit Rural America Later - and Harder.” Vox, Vox, 28 Mar. 2020, www.vox.com/2020/3/28/21197421/usa-coronavirus-covid-19-rural-america

Ritchie, Hannah, and Max Roser. “What Do We Know about the Risk of Dying from COVID-19?” Our World in Data, Our World in Data, 25 Mar. 2020, ourworldindata.org/covid-mortality-risk. 

Snell, Kelsey. “What's Inside The Senate's $2 Trillion Coronavirus Aid Package.” NPR, NPR, 26 Mar. 2020, www.npr.org/2020/03/26/821457551/whats-inside-the-senate-s-2-trillion-coronavirus-aid-package

Ulrich, Lauren. “Community-Led Relief Groups Rally in Response to COVID-19.” Phelpscountyfocus.com, 26 Mar. 2020, www.phelpscountyfocus.com/the_focus_insider/article_000547de-6e16-11ea-a20e-43634b5da23b.html

“VA.gov: Veterans Affairs.” Protect Your Health, Veterans Affairs , 24 Jan. 2012, www.publichealth.va.gov/diseases-conditions.asp