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TOP releases demands for City of Houston, Harris County to mitigate effects of coronavirus pandemic

The Texas Organizing Project (TOP) today released a list of demands for City of Houston and Harris County officials to address the economic and health needs of residents during the coronavirus shutdown.

“In this time of uncertainty for so many families, we need our local officials and business leaders to step up in a big way and take action to successfully combat the coronavirus pandemic. This means investing in and targeting services for the most vulnerable among us,” said Celeste Arredondo-Peterson, TOP’s housing campaign director. “This includes low-wage workers without paid sick leave, immigrant families afraid to access health services, people detained in crowded jails who cannot self-quarantine, and Black and Latino families who are burdened with being uninsured and are now facing unemployment.”

Right2Justice demands for Harris County jails and our legal system
We demand measures be taken to reduce the number of people detained, and that steps are taken to limit the spread of the coronavirus within Harris County jails and our legal system to the maximum extent possible. We demand:

  • On-site education (via one-pager or posters) about coronavirus, how it spreads and CDC recommended safety practices
  • Enough coronavirus testing kits for the county’s jails to test all people who have been exposed to the virus or who present symptoms
  • Elimination of fees and co-pays for all medical needs for all persons who are in the county jails
  • Immediate release of all people currently incarcerated pre-trial unless there is clear evidence that their release would present an unreasonable risk to the community’s safety with special consideration to people that the CDC has classified as vulnerable, such as the elderly and pregnant women, including those with ICE holds
  • Immediate release of all people jailed on parole and probation holds, unless there is clear evidence that their release would present an unreasonable risk to the community’s safety with special consideration to people that the CDC has classified as vulnerable, such as the elderly and pregnant women
  • Immediate release of people in Harris County facilities who are within six months of completing their sentence, unless there is clear evidence that release would present an unreasonable risk to the safety of the community
  • Free calls for all persons incarcerated in Harris County facilities
  • Implementation of cite-and-release by HPD, the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, Pasadena Police Department and all other law enforcement agencies in
  • Harris County for low level offenses to reduce the number of new bookings
  • Personal hygiene supplies should be given to those who remain in the Harris County jails free of charge to help stop the spread of the coronavirus

Economic protections for working families
We demand a moratorium on evictions and a halt to all utility shut-offs to ease the financial burden of coronavirus recovery for our families. In addition, we demand:

  • Moratorium on foreclosures for the duration of the crisis and at least two months after the stay-at-home order is lifted
  • An extension on unemployment benefits and the removal of job search requirements for the duration of the crisis and at least two months after the stay-at-home order is lifted
  • SNAP benefit increases to the maximum amount allotted
  • An increase in SSI benefit allotment
  • Grocery stores that offer curbside services should extend those services to lower income families that are on SNAP, and allow them to pay for their purchases via their EBT card

Ensuring the rights of immigrant families
ICE has a track record of abuse and neglect toward immigrants in detention centers. This has resulted in a disturbing amount of people dying in the agency’s custody due to lack of basic medical attention. We demand:

  • No ICE raids in our city and county
  • Ensuring all facilities where people are detained in ICE custody, be it county jails or dedicated facilities, are prioritizing the health and well-being of people detained, including but not limited to:
    • Directing staff to not to use widespread lock-downs
    • A provision for quarantining anyone who tests positive for the virus at a hospital, not at the prison or jail
    • A commitment that at no point will a facility be locked down or closed off to outsiders, or be considered in its entirety as a place of “quarantine.” Family members and lawyers must maintain access to their clients and loved ones.
    • Waiving of all costs associated with soap, sanitizer and other hygiene products
    • Directing detention facility employees to stay home, with pay, if they feel sick
    • Allowing undocumented immigrants to have access to healthcare resources and testing kits

Healthcare justice for all
We demand free testing, treatment and medical care for all families impacted by coronavirus regardless of race, gender, religion, criminal background or citizenship status. Healthcare for all families, including coronavirus testing, treatment and access to other life-saving medications, should be a right. We demand:

  • Medicaid expansion to provide millions of working Texas families with affordable healthcare

Public education justice
We call on Houston ISD and neighboring school districts in Harris County to ensure every child has the opportunity to receive a quality public education during this time. We demand:

  • Each HISD trustee have at least one school in their district implementing meal distribution sites so students who relied on these meals will not go hungry.

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Texas Organizing Project organizes Black and Latino communities in Dallas, Harris and Bexar counties with the goal of transforming Texas into a state where working people of color have the power and representation they deserve. For more information, visit organizetexas.org.

This press release was sent out March 26, 2020.