Trump Labor Department Encourages States to Help Report Workers Who Stay Home Due to Covid-19 Fears
By Jake Johnson
With the stated goal of rooting out "waste and fraud" in the unemployment insurance system, President Donald Trump's Department of Labor is openly encouraging ongoing state efforts to help employers report workers who refuse to return to their jobs out of fear of contracting the coronavirus.
In guidance issued Monday as several states across the U.S. continue the dangerous process of reopening their economies amid the pandemic, the Labor Department said "states are strongly encouraged to request employers to provide information when workers refuse to return to their jobs for reasons that do not support their continued eligibility for benefits."
"We also strongly encourage states to remind employers and the public about the claimant and employer fraud resources within each state," the guidance reads.
In a statement accompanying the new guidelines, the Labor Department's Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training John Pallasch said "states and localities have an obligation to spot and detect waste and fraud in the unemployment insurance system and report it to the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General and other appropriate channels."
Under current law, those who refuse "suitable work" are ineligible for unemployment benefits. In a frequently asked questions section on its website, the Labor Department says that "general concern" about contracting Covid-19 is not sufficient grounds to refuse work and still receive unemployment benefits.
Michele Evermore of the National Employment Law Project told CNBC that workers could attempt to "argue that the conditions are no longer safe and try to refuse work" if they believe their employers are not taking sufficient steps to ensure a safe workplace. Despite demands from nurses and other frontline workers, the Labor Department has not issued emergency standards requiring employers to follow the CDC's coronavirus safety guidelines.
Marcia Brown, writing fellow at The American Prospect, reported last week that Ohio and Iowa have set up websites designed to help employers report workers for committing "unemployment fraud" by declining to return to work amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Labor advocates in Texas—which is currently in the process of reopening its economy—have urged the state to continue providing unemployment benefits to those who do not want to return to their jobs out of fear of contracting the virus. In a private call with lawmakers earlier this month that was leaked to the media, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott admitted that reopening the economy "will lead to an increase and spread" of Covid-19.
There's a plague outside but the Trump administration is strongly encouraging states to solicit employer tips on wo… https://t.co/Xl12NmqW42— Arthur Delaney (@Arthur Delaney)1589244260.0
More than 30 million people in the U.S. have applied for unemployment benefits since mid-March, but—as HuffPost reported last week—some governors are working to cut off the expanded unemployment benefits that were authorized under the CARES Act before many people have even received their first checks.
The CARES Act's expansion of unemployment insurance—an additional $600 per week on top of state benefits—is set to expire at the end of July.
As many workers risk losing their unemployment benefits to stay home out of fear of infection, the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress are working to protect corporations from legal responsibility for employees who contract Covid-19 in the workplace, an effort that has drawn outrage from labor unions and progressive advocacy groups.
Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, told the Financial Times on Monday that corporations and governments are endangering the lives of workers by pushing them to return to their jobs before it is safe.
"Healthcare workers are concerned that, without PPE and training for the retail and restaurant workers who are going back, we're rushing into another spike," Henry said. "It feels like governments and corporations feel that some lives in this nation are worth sacrificing."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Kristen Fischer
It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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