Response to COVID-19: Elections

By Taylor Lansdale, Program Director, CSG Overseas Voting Initiative

Summary

  • COVID-19 has caused significant distress in the elections community.
  • Social distancing rules makes in-person voting a safety concern for both voters and election workers.
  • Polling sites are experiencing shortages of those poll workers, presumably because they are concerned about exposure to the virus.
  • States are taking different steps to overcome COVID-19 concerns:
    • Moving election dates
    • Expanding all-mail voting
    • Some states, such as Wisconsin, calling in National Guard to work polling places
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State and Federal Response to COVID-19 Cybersecurity

By Casandra Hockenberry, Policy Analyst, The Council of State Governments Overseas Voting Initiative

Summary

Cybersecurity is the measures taken to secure electronic data and systems against criminal attacks, including malware, phishing, spearphishing, denial-of-service, etc. In most companies and businesses, there is some level of internal cybersecurity steps that have been take to stop these attacks. COVID-19 means we are seeing unprecedented levels of teleworking, including telemedicine. Suddenly, these systems are significantly more open for cyber-attacks. Additionally, actors both foreign and domestic have been working on misinformation and disinformation campaigns.

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States Form Task Forces to Consider Short- and Long-Term Impacts of Coronavirus

By: CSG Policy Team

As the spread of COVID-19 continues to uncover new challenges for state governments each day, many state leaders have turned to task forces and advisory committees to help them better understand these issues. While many of these panels focus on the immediate needs related to the state’s public health response and agency coordination, others are also tasked with looking ahead to consider the long-term strategies that may be needed to repair state economies and decimated support systems in the years ahead. Here’s a look at some of these task forces including their makeup and focuses:

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States Prioritize Mental Health Amid COVID19 Pandemic

By Sydney Geiger, CSG Policy Analyst

As the current state with the largest outbreak of COVID-19, New York is prioritizing the mental health of its citizens. Over 6,000 volunteers have donated their time to staff a free online mental health hotline. Discussing the hotline, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “No one is really talking about this. We are all concerned about the immediate critical need. The life and death of the immediate situation which is right. But don’t underestimate the emotional trauma that people are feeling and the emotional health issues.”

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State/Federal Response to COVID-19 States Concerned About Gas Tax Revenue Declines As Congress Considers Infrastructure Investment

By Sean Slone, CSG Senior Policy Analyst

With Americans being advised to stay at home during the coronavirus outbreak, travel on the nation’s roads has decreased significantly in recent weeks, as have gasoline sales. That has many states concerned about the impact to state and federal gas tax revenues, which are used to fund both infrastructure maintenance and new projects. But some in Congress and the Trump administration appear keen to move forward quickly on another coronavirus relief bill that could center around infrastructure investment.

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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic – Ventilator Request

Advisory

March 31, 2020 
Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs Division

Given the scarcity of the ventilators in the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) and the current capacity of the private sector to meet the demand, the federal government has adopted the process below to manage federal ventilator resources to ensure the ventilators are shipped to the states in the amount needed to manage the immediate crisis. In the case of ventilators, immediate is defined as requirements necessary to sustain life within a 72-hour window.

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Federal and State Responses to COVID-19

Federal Legislation

On March 6, President Donald Trump signed emergency spending bill H.R. 6074, after its introduction to Congress just two days prior. The bill allocates $8.3 billion in funding to support national efforts to combat transmission of the novel coronavirus. At the time of its signing, a total of 164 cases had been confirmed across 19 states. Just under two weeks later, this number had risen to a total of 10,442 .

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COVID-19 and Impacts on Individuals with Disabilities

By Dina Klimkina, program manager, The Council of State Governments Center of Innovation

Twenty six percent of adults in the U.S. have some type of disability. These disabilities may impact mobility, cognition, the ability to live independently, hearing, vision or the ability to care for one’s self.  Nearly one in four women have a disability, and half of all individuals with a disability are over the age of 65.

Disability is a natural part of the human experience that in no way diminishes one’s right to fully participate in all aspects of community life. While many states have worked to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities through initiatives focused employment, education, transportation and other needs, now more than ever it is important that states address the rights and needs of individuals with disabilities in the wake of the COVID-19 planning and response.

States have taken critical steps to ensure safety, including school closures, crowd limits, state curfews and restaurant and bar closures, among other measures. However, it important that states consider the potential effects on their more vulnerable citizens.

While individuals with disabilities are not inherently at a greater risk for contracting COVID-19, individuals with disabilities may be more affected by disruption of services, including:

  • Home and community supports and service provision;
  • Access to education;
  • Access to information;
  • Access to steady employment;
  • Access to healthcare; and other critical needs.

Service Provision

Individuals with disabilities may have a challenge with social distancing as some rely heavily on community-based and in-home service provision. Service provision ranges across many categories, including anything from therapy to delivery of goods, meals and medications. States leaders should think strategically about how to ensure services continue to the most vulnerable populations, including the development of plans for food distribution, care for those in quarantine or prescription delivery. Continuity of operations for services and supplies that assist people with disabilities and older adults is critical for ensuring individuals maintain their health, safety, dignity and independence.

For example, California Executive Order N-25-20 ensures that individuals with developmental disabilities continue to receive the services and supports mandated in their individual programs and plans that are threatened by disruptions caused by COVID-19.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear issued Executive Order 2020-257 regarding the state of emergency in Kentucky. The order mandates that only life sustaining businesses may remain open, with the exception of organizations that provide charitable and social services. These organizations include “food banks, when providing food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or special populations, individuals who need assistance as a result of the emergency, and people with disabilities.”

Access to Education

Over 45 states have, to some extent, closed all public elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools. Lack of access to regular school days can be particularly challenging for the 6.7 million public school students with disabilities. School days can provide valuable structure, development, training and sense of community.

Under Title II and Section 504 of federal statute, school officials have an obligation to avoid discrimination of students on the basis of disability and therefore must ensure provision of education services if the student has an individualized education program (IEP) or is receiving services under section 504. However, this applies only if the school is providing instruction to other students. In other words, if a school is not educating other students they are not mandated to provide education services to students with disabilities.

E-learning technology can be used to provide students with high-quality educational instruction during an extended school closure. However, online instruction materials should be provided through adapted accessible communication strategies.

In New York City, school officials have noted that they will soon begin to contact parents to begin arrangements for their students’ individual plans for remote learning. According to officials, teachers will conduct individual education plan meetings by phone, and therapists will provide teletherapy alongside schools’ remote instruction plans. The city has also released resources on Diverse Learning at Home for Special Populations, which includes assistive technology support as well as specific occupational, physical and speech therapy activities for students.

However, some areas are not engaging in online learning due to lack of equity or access for all students. Kentucky’s largest school district is specifically not moving to online learning due to concerns with accessibility and internet access. However, the school district has provided resources for non-mandatory online learning.  A Washington State school district acquired 4,000 devices and additional internet access to low-income students but had to revert the plan due to risk of violating access to equitable services. It is critical that at home learning plans do not increase the gaps in education.

The U.S. Department of Education has issued a webinar and fact sheet for protecting students civil rights during COVID-19 response.

Access to Information

Individuals with disabilities must have access to credible and timely information. Any changes to systems which provide services, affect living or employment arrangements or can help individuals minimize their risk of infection must be communicated to all members of the community.

It is critical that state agencies provide public information in a way that is accessible for the most members of the community. State  leaders should consider using the following tools to ensure accessibility of information:

  • Public announcements should be live-captioned and accompanied by qualified sign language interpreters. Numerous states are ensuring that all citizens have access to the state’s COVID19 updates, including citizens that are deaf or hard of hearing. For example, Rhode Island , Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois ensure there is an American Sign Language interpreter at each of the governors’ daily press briefings. 
  • Websites must be accessible for individuals with a variety of disabilities, including individuals who use assistive technology. Learn more on how to improve website accessibility here and use the following tool to check your current site.
  • Communications should utilize plain and simple language to maximize understanding.
  • States can develop tools specifically made for individuals with disabilities that help break down the risks of the virus, for example the Coronavirus Information and Guidance for People with Disabilities developed by the office of Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott.

Access to Steady Employment

Individuals with disabilities are a critical part of the state workforce. Yet, a significant percentage of people with disabilities have difficulties finding, securing and retaining employment. In a time where many individuals are facing possibility of unemployment, state governments must work to ensure that individuals with disabilities are able to continue to work or return to work following social distancing.

To facilitate continued employment, states may want to consider promoting the use of teleworking policies. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodation for qualified applicants and employees with disabilities. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance on COVID-19 notes that employees with disabilities may request reasonable accommodations in response to the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. Allowing individuals with disabilities to work from home can be considered an accommodation. To learn more about reasonable accommodation requests and COVID-19 please visit the Job Accommodation Network.

The Stay-At-Work/ Return-to-Work Toolkit is a resource designed to help state officials increase the employment retention and labor force participation of individuals who acquire and/or are at risk of developing work disabilities, whether on-the-job or off-the-job.

Policymakers can also continue to develop innovative workforce policies and strategic workforce development plans, ensuring that individuals with disabilities also have access to high quality meaningful employment opportunities.  

For example, during the COVID 19 pandemic, Texas is still working to ensure people with disabilities have access to employment services. The Texas Workforce Commission released a statement  that emphasizes that the agency is working hard to continue to provide of services to their customers. One example of overcoming the current situation to ensure that services are still provided is that the Workforce Commission has developed a procedure in which vocational rehabilitation counselors can issue and approve service authorizations electronically. This allows for the continuation of services remotely without human contact.

To learn more about how states can improve their disability employment policies read CSG’s Work Matters: A Framework for States on Workforce Development for People with Disabilities.

Access to Healthcare and Medication

All individuals with disabilities are not at higher health risk for contracting COVID-19. However, many individuals with weakened immune systems or those with disabilities that affect their respiratory capacity may be at a higher risk of serious illness or death from a COVID-19 infection.

Currently, hospitals across the country are experiencing shortages of life saving equipment, including ventilators, personal protective equipment and other critical tools. There are concerns that the lack of capacity within the U.S. healthcare system will result in “rationing of life saving care for individuals with pre-existing illnesses and disabilities.”Some states have begun to explore rationing measures, while others have begun to develop ethics committees and patient selection frameworks based on condition, preexisting health problems and age.

Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Texas and Virginia, have all released executive orders related to consolidating efforts, postponing non-essential treatments and/or conserving resources within hospitals. To conserve equipment and increase safety, the executive order from Oregon prohibited all non-essential procedures and required that all clinics, hospitals and outpatient procedures notify the state’s PPE coordinator off all available equipment and surplus supplies. Similarly, New Jersey Executive Order 109. ordered any business in New Jersey possessing PPE, ventilators, respirators or anesthesia machines that are not required for the provision of critical health care services, to be reported to the state. The order from Virginia permitted the State Health Commissioner to authorize any general hospital or nursing home to increase licensed bed capacity to respond to increased demand for beds resulting from COVID-19.

To comply with federal law, state health departments should follow the non-discrimination requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act in making treatment decisions.

Protecting Individuals in Facilities, Residential Care and Chronic Disease Hospitals

Within medical institutions, best practices indicate that administrators should follow strict hygiene and physical distancing policies, as well as updated more restrictive visitor policies. In the event that individuals living in group facilities are infected, government planners must address how to provide care for those individuals without risking others. Placement of individuals with disabilities, caregivers or service providers must not leave individuals with disabilities without the supports needed to maintain their health and safety.

 Connecticut Executive Order No. 7A grants the  Commissioner of Public Health the ability to issue “orders restricting entrance into nursing home facilities, residential care homes or chronic disease hospitals that she deems necessary to protect the health and welfare of patients, residents and staff.” Oregon Executive Order 20-10 has also increased screenings and limitations on visitations to hospitals and surgical centers.

Mental Health

In some cases, individuals with disabilities are pre-disposed to feelings of social isolation. Policies requiring social distancing  as a way to curb the spread of COVID-19, may put individuals with psychosocial disabilities into greater distress. Greater mental health services may be necessary during the pandemic, including access to telemedicine which may be the most effective way of administering services and practicing social distancing.

States like Rhode Island , Arkansas and  Kansas have expanded the availability of telemedicine to their populations. These states have reduced barriers health services by removing the requirement of initial in-person examinations, amongst other provisions. Expansion of telehealth can make a significant impact on both individuals with disabilities, as well as individuals in more rural areas who may find it difficult to access healthcare in the first place.

Learn more

To learn more about issues facing individuals with disabilities, read the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies National Call to address the rights and needs of persons with disabilities throughout all COVID-19 planning and response. The document addresses opportunities state government’s have for improving current strategies and calls on governments to close gaps, minimize the impact and optimize community resources.

Associates in Action: CSG Associates Pledge to Keep Americans Connected

Following natural disasters and in times of national crisis, America’s private sector steps up to aid the states. We are proud of the herculean efforts of our private sector members, the CSG Leadership Circle and Associates, as we work together to combat COVID-19.

As millions of Americans adjust to a new normal of working at home as part of the social distancing measures implemented in most states, telecommunications companies are working to keep people connected to the internet and to each other.

Over 400 companies signed onto the Federal Communications Commission’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge. CSG Leadership Circle and Associates joined the effort including AT&T, Comcast, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. The Keep Americans Connected Pledge asks companies to not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic; waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic; and open its Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.

Beyond these commitments, CSG Associates are launching new features to help American workers and families while at home and providing some existing services for free during this time. These include:

AT&T has taken the following actions to assist with the COVID-19 crisis:

  • Created new $10 million Distance Learning & Family Connections Fund
    • The new Distance Learning and Family Connections Fund gives parents, students and teachers tools they need for at-home learning. The fund also will provide resources to maintain meaningful connections and bonding opportunities for those isolated from family and friends.
  • Launched new Command Centers to support AT&T business customers
    • To keep customers connected and compliment its product offers, AT&T launched six new Command Centers that are enabling the fast delivery of increased bandwidth, new circuits and unified communication services.
  • Unlimited AT&T home internet
    • All AT&T consumer home internet wireline customers, as well as Fixed Wireless Internet, can use unlimited internet data. Additionally, the compnay will continue to offer internet access for qualifying limited income households at $10 a month through its Access from AT&T program. AT&T expanded eligibility to Access from AT&T to households participating in the National School Lunch Program and Head Start. Additionally, the company will offer new Access from AT&T customers two months of free service.
  • Serving those who serve
    • AT&T is redirecting more resources to provide communication services and tools for first responders, health care professionals, educators and other essential customers. This additional support will help ensure these customers can continue providing critical support to the country and their communities, particularly to first responders using the FirstNet network.

For more information: https://www.att.com/

Comcast is taking steps to implement the following new policies for the next 60 days as well as other important initiatives: 

  • Xfinity WiFi free for everyone
    • Xfinity WiFi hotspots across the country will be available to anyone who needs them for free — including non-Xfinity Internet subscribers. For a map of Xfinity WiFi hotspots, visit www.xfinity.com/wifi. Once at a hotspot, consumers should select the “xfinityifi” network name in the list of available hotspots, and then launch a browser.
  • Pausing its data plans
    • With so many people working and educating from home, Comcast is pausing its data plans for 60 days giving all customers Unlimited data for no additional charge.
  • Internet Essentials free to new customers
    • New customers will receive 60 days of complimentary Internet Essentials service, which is normally available to all qualified low-income households for $9.95/month. Additionally, for all new and existing Internet Essentials customers, the speed of the program’s Internet service was increased to 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. That increase will go into effect for no additional fee and it will become the new base speed for the program going forward.
  • News, information and educational content on X1 and Flex
    • For those with school-age students at home, Comcast has created new educational collections for all grade levels in partnership with Common Sense Media. Just say “education” into your X1 or Flex voice remote. To help keep customers informed, Comcast also has created a collection of the most current news and information on Coronavirus. Just say “Coronavirus” into your X1 or Flex voice remote. 
  • 24×7 network monitoring
    • Underpinning all of these efforts, Comcast’s technology and engineering teams will continue to work tirelessly to support our network operations. It engineers its network capacity to handle spikes and shifts in usage patterns and continuously test, monitor and enhance its systems and network to ensure they are ready to support customer usage. Comcast engineers and technicians staff its network operations centers 24/7 to ensure network performance and reliability. They are monitoring network usage and watching the load on the network both nationally and locally, and to date it is performing well.  

For more information: https://corporate.comcast.com/

Sprint is doubling the 1Million Project’s data allotment from 10 GB to 20 GB per month through June 30, 2020. During the past three years, in partnership with 246 districts across 35 states, the 1Million Project Foundation has connected 350,000 high school students with 10 GB of free monthly high-speed wireless data and services.

For more information: http://www.1millionproject.org/

T-Mobile announced plans to extend support to communities impacted by COVID-19:

  • Partnering with Feeding America, Shaw Education and YouTube through T-Mobile Tuesdays, a program that thanks customers with exclusive offers every Tuesday. For more information, download the T-Mobile Tuesdays app.
  • The T-Mobile Foundation is contributing $100,000 to the COVID-19 Response Fund hosted by the Seattle Foundation, which will rapidly deploy resources to community-based organizations at the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak in the greater Seattle and Puget Sound region.
  • The T-Mobile Foundation is also offering a 2:1 match for employees who want to give additional funds to Feeding America or the CDC Foundation that supports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s critical health protection work.

All current T-Mobile customers on plans that currently have data are provided the unlimited connectivity. In addition, T-Mobile is executing the following efforts:

  • All current T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile customers who have plans with data will have unlimited smartphone data for the next 60 days (excluding roaming).
  • Providing T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile customers on smartphone plans with hotspot data an additional 20GB of mobile hotspot / tethering service for the next 60 days.
  • Working with its Lifeline partners to provide customers extra free data up to 5GB of data per month over the next two months.
  • Increasing the data allowance for free to schools and students using its EmpowerED digital learning programs to ensure each participant has access to at least 20GB of data per month for the next 60 days.
  • Offering free international calling for all current T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile customers to landline(and in many cases mobile) numbers in many severely impacted countries. 
  • Supporting the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge focused on ensuring residential and small business customers with financial impacts do not lose service.

For more information:https://www.t-mobile.com/

Verizon is serving Americans on the following fronts:

  • Free international calling to countries identified by the Centers for Disease Control as Level 3-impacted by the coronavirus effective March 18 through the end of April 2020. This is available to wireless postpaid consumer and small/medium business customers, and landline home phone customers. Unlimited calling will be included for mobile and landline calls, with the exception of Iran, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia provided 300 minutes of free calls per month. Effective March 16, wireless prepaid customers will also receive a total of 300 additional minutes to call Level 3 countries.
  • Waiving activation fees on new lines of service and upgrade fees starting March 18. This applies to all purchases and service-only activations made through Verizon digital channels, such as verizonwireless.com and the My Verizon app.

For more information: https://www.verizonwireless.com/support/covid-19-faqs/

Associates in Action articles highlight CSG Associates’ philanthropic efforts and public-private partnerships throughout the states.