Update from Irene Fernando

Thank you to all of you who have reached out to our office over the last two weeks. Our office is issuing this statement in order to best respond to the many calls and emails we have received and to provide as much accurate and up-to-date information as we can at this time.

If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact me at bill.emory@hennepin.us or 612-348-3526.

Thank you!

Bill Emory, Constituent Services & Policy Aide, Hennepin County Commissioner Irene Fernando’s District 2 Office

Updates on Hennepin’s State of Emergency and COVID-19

Posted on Friday, March 20th, 2020

On Friday March 13, Governor Walz declared a state of peacetime emergency for Minnesota. The following business day on Monday March 16, Chair Greene declared a state of emergency for Hennepin County. And the business day after on Tuesday March 17, the County Board voted on several policy measures. 

Policy and voting can be an elongated process. I believe there are many additional actions the County Board will need to take in the coming weeks. Thanks to the strength of Hennepin’s leadership, we were prepared to vote on meaningful policy actions in a timely and responsive manner. I thank my colleagues for their commitment and for passing each measure unanimously (7-0). Below see all the actions Hennepin has taken to date as well as actions I’m advocating for more broadly.

Actions Hennepin has taken, both as a service provider and as an employer:

  • Declared Emergency. To increase responsiveness, the County Board authorized County Administration special powers in how Hennepin coordinates or receives aid from local, state, and federal governments—and in the same action we immediately allocated $2.5 million to purchase and contract for all necessary goods, materials, supplies, equipment, and contracted services as part of the Hennepin County’s COVID-19 response.
  • Increased Shelter Funding. To proactively limit the impact among our most in need, namely seniors and other vulnerable people who are experiencing homelessness, the County Board authorized $3 million to secure alternative living spaces. County leaders have been working with shelters and will transport approximately 150 people to a new site, which will provide separation in space to mitigate the health risk.  
  • More Testing. To remove barriers for testing, Hennepin is waiving copays for COVID-19 testing to the extent permitted by law. I understand that there are other factors and barriers to testing, so County leaders are in conversation with partners to advance this topic.
  • Closed Public Spaces. To align with recommendations from the CDC, most County buildings are closed to the public. By federal and state statute, there are many services that are required to be delivered in person—so this decision is significant, and County leaders are working with State leaders to ensure compliance with the law and continuation of services. 
  • Equip Remote Working. All workers who are able are required to work remotely. Hennepin has provided guidance, remote tools, and equipment to accomplish this—and some of this may take some effort and patience to implement completely. I would like to note that this doesn’t apply to everyone, and the entire community is grateful for your service. Specifically: (i) workers who care for people in facilities, (ii) workers who investigate allegations of abuse or neglect, (iii) workers who protect our most vulnerable populations such as those experiencing homelessness, and (iv) workers who monitor court-ordered probationers/parolees.
  • Adjust Employee Policies. The County Board expanded support for employees during the pandemic. Specifically, we authorized: (i) eligibility for 80 hours for an employee who is required to be off work with a medically confirmed diagnosis of or exposure to COVID-19 for them or someone of their family or household, (ii) increasing the number of negative vacation/sick leave/PTO time that can be accrued to 240 hours, (iii) allowing for the ability to earn 80 hours back with continued employment at Hennepin, and (iv) an additional 80 hours of future PTO/vacation time for employees whose jobs cannot be done off-site and are on the frontlines of this crisis. I am grateful for the speed of these changes, and I understand that these policies may need to be further advanced or strengthened as the situation evolves. 
  • Shift Operating Procedures. This is an evolving time with much uncertainty. New information and dynamic factors are revealed constantly, and Hennepin is continually working to respond.

Actions I am advocating for in my leadership capacity as a Commissioner:

  • Adjust State Statutes. Suspending adherence to state statutes that conflict with Hennepin County’s ability to care for residents and our workforce.
  • Produce Protective Health Equipment. Identify businesses with the manufacturing ability to produce testing supplies and protective health gear and support them in increasing capacity immediately.
  • Provide Resources and Care for All. Expand access to public assistance programs and health care programs to all residents, regardless of citizenship status.
  • Stop Evictions. Suspending evictions and related proceedings, so that people can remain stably housed.
  • Increase Housing Stability. Expanding eligibility, speeding up processes, and supplementing access to rental assistance and homeless prevention programs, such as FHPAP and EA/EGA.
  • Increase Basic Needs. Expanding eligibility and speeding up processes for cash and food assistance programs, such as SNAP (food stamps) and MFIP.
  • Increase Economic Stability. Providing economic support for individuals, including Unemployment Insurance Benefits and other stimulus efforts.
  • Stop Mortgage and Rent Payments. Suspending mortgage and rent payments, which would benefit renters, homeowners, businesses, and the community as a whole.
  • Stop Loan Payments. Suspending loan payments (such as student or medical), which would benefit residents and spur economic development.
  • Stop Utility Payments. Suspending utility payments, which would benefit renters, homeowners, businesses, and the community as a whole.
  • Define Internet as a Utility. Defining broadband internet as a utility to be regulated (like water or electricity) versus a commodity (like goods or services), particularly in an environment where distance-learning and access to internet are required for other State functions such as education. 
  • Engage on 2020 Census. Increasing community outreach and engagement to ensure a fair and accurate count in the midst of this pandemic.
  • Secure Elections. Protecting our elections and preparing for a potential shift to elections primarily conducted by mail.
  • Reduce Correctional Facilities Population. Reducing the health risk for staff and people in correctional facilities by releasing low-risk offenders to home confinement, protecting them and staff from exposure.
  • Stop Deportations. Implement an immediate ban of deportations. Our interactions with other countries should be centered on this health crisis and not on the forced removal of our neighbors.

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