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Friday, April 10, 2020

AG’S OFFICE EXPANDS EFFORTS TO SUPPORT IMMIGRANTS AND COMMUNITIES OF COLOR DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC

AG’S OFFICE EXPANDS EFFORTS TO SUPPORT IMMIGRANTS AND COMMUNITIES OF COLOR DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC
Provides Multilingual Resources and Hotline Staff Members to Assist Residents and Workers

            BOSTON – Attorney General Maura Healey today announced an expansion of her office’s resources for immigrant, Black, and Brown communities in Massachusetts during the COVID-19 public health crisis.

The AG’s Office has ramped up its outreach efforts to underserved communities that are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. AG Healey has called for more community-level data on access to testing, medical care and rates of infection in order to better target desperately needed testing, treatment, and other support. Throughout the pandemic, the AG’s Office has worked hard to equitably protect the rights of workersconsumers, tenants, patients, and students across the state.

            “This is an incredibly frightening and serious time for families across our state, especially those in our immigrant, Black and Brown communities,” AG Healey said. “We all need to work together to address the disparate impact of this epidemic and push resources to the communities that need them most.”

Workers’ Rights

            The AG’s Office is providing information on workers’ rights in ChinesePortugueseVietnameseHaitian CreoleSpanish, and Khmer on its dedicated COVID-19 online resource page.

            Ensuring that workers have access to paid time off if they or a family member get sick is a top priority for the AG’s Fair Labor Division. AG Healey led 15 attorneys general last month in sending a letter to Amazon and Whole Foods, urging the companies to strengthen their sick and family leave policies. The letter specifically asks the companies to adopt the requirements of the Family First Act by providing two weeks of fully paid time off to quarantine, receive treatment or care for a family member and for 12 weeks of job protected leave to care for children. The AG’s office also filed amicus briefs in support of Uber and Lyft drivers seeking paid sick leave during the pandemic in order to protect themselves and members of the public.

AG Healey worked closely with Governor Baker’s Office and the state Department of Public Health on guidance issued on March 25 to protect consumers and workers at grocery stores and pharmacies. The order imposes distancing and sanitation requirements for the stores, which are essential businesses.

For multilingual resources on workers’ rights click here.

Civil Rights

In response to reports of COVID-19 backlash targeting Asian Americans, the AG’s Office is standing  up against hateful speech and discrimination, and providing civil rights information to residents  in multiple languages including Chinese.

The AG’s Office has been closely monitoring for unlawful evictions during the public health crisis, including those that are filed in court and unlawful self-help evictions by landlords. All eviction cases in court are postponed until May 4 or later. The AG’s Office is supporting pending legislation that will provide additional relief for tenants including a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for a period of time after the state of emergency is lifted.

Last month, a federal court ruled in favor of AG Healey’s Office and 15 other attorneys general and issued an injunction blocking the Trump Administration from implementing some of the most troubling parts of a rule that would have prevented more than 16,000 Massachusetts residents who could not find work from accessing food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The judge acknowledged that guaranteeing flexibility for governments to address their residents’ nutritional needs during the COVID-19 public health crisis is particularly important.

For multilingual resources on protecting your civil rights click here.

Equity

            The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light longstanding inequities in the distribution of care and treatment for Black and Brown families in Massachusetts and across the country. These communities are being disproportionally impacted by the pandemic. AG Healey and her office are committed to working with advocates and stakeholders to address these disparities.

            The AG and her staff are continuing to work with the members of her office’s Advisory Council on Racial Justice and Equity to address the issues facing their communities during the public health crisis including workers’ and civil rights, health care disparities, and eviction, rent and utility issues. The council is made up of advocates and religious and community leaders from churches and organizations across the state – including the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, the NAACP and the ACLU – who work directly with the AG and her staff to assist in their efforts to address the ongoing racial disparities.

Resources for Immigrants

The AG’s Office has a dedicated online resource page for immigrant communities that is regularly updated with public health information and resources. Recognizing that many immigrants don’t have access to health insurance and other government benefits, the AG’s Office has provided information about access to COVID-19 testing and treatment, as well as other resources that are available to everyone, regardless of immigration status. The office urges anyone who is sick with COVID-19-like symptoms or knows that they have been exposed to the virus, not to hesitate to seek medical attention and care, regardless of their immigration status or insurance coverage.

Staff from the AG’s Office have also recorded and posted multilingual videos to the office’s Twitter and Facebook pages that include important information for residents related to the public health crisis.

Throughout the pandemic, AG Healey and her staff are continuing to work closely with the office’s Advisory Council on New Americans. The Council is made up of 25 refugee and immigrant leaders from across the state who advise the AG and staff on various issues impacting residents in their communities including civil and consumer rights issues, health care, workers’ rights and housing.

For multilingual resources on immigrant rights click here.

Hotlines

The AG’s Office has also ramped up its consumer, fair labor, and civil rights hotlines and has multilingual staff available to assist residents with a variety of COVID-19 related issues, including event cancelations, childcare, scams, price gouging, and paid sick time.

The AG’s Consumer Advocacy and Response Division encourages members of the public to call 617-727-8400 or file a complaint online about consumer-related issues during this public health emergency. To date, the hotline has received nearly 2,000 coronavirus-related inquiries.
The Fair Labor Division encourages workers who have questions about their wages, overtime and paid leave to call its hotline at 617-727-3465 or to file a complaint online. The division has received more than 4,800 calls from workers who have COVID-19 related concerns including health and safety matters. The division is working hard to inform workers of their rights and employers of their obligations under the law during the crisis. Staff are closely monitoring complaints regarding employers who are breaking the law.
The Civil Rights Division encourages residents who have experienced discrimination or  whose civil rights have otherwise been violated to call its hotline at (617) 963-2917 or to file a complaint online.
Community Engagement

            The AG’s Community Engagement Division is continuing its efforts to inform the public about the office’s resources and is holding a variety of webinars in multiple languages on issues related to the pandemic including landlord-tenant rights, civil rights, and how residents can avoid falling victim to the unauthorized practice of immigration law, a widespread scam known as “notario fraud.”

            For a list of multilingual webinars click here.

Consumer Protection
The AG’s Office has taken a number of steps to increase consumer protections, including filing emergency regulations prohibiting the price gouging of essential items, and a regulation to prevent harmful debt collection practices during the public health crisis.


Ratepayer Rights

            In recognition of the financial hardship families are facing as a result of the public health crisis, AG Healey’s Energy and Telecommunications Division is looking for ways to save the state’s gas and electric customers money and has called on the state’s Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to delay an upcoming gas rate increase. The division specifically is calling for at least a three-month delay in customer surcharges to cover gas pipeline replacement costs.

            Following a call from the division to ban door-to-door solicitations by competitive electric suppliers during the epidemic, the DPU requested that the companies and their third-party marketers cease these practices. Reports conducted by the AG’s Office show that these companies disproportionately target the state’s low-income, minority and elderly residents. 


            The division also successfully called on the DPU to issue an order preventing utilities from shutting off service during the public health crisis. The division reached out to municipal light plants across the state and they have agreed not to shut off residential service.

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