Stronger Measures Needed for COVID-19 Effects: Now and in the Future
Sioux Falls, SD – (April 17, 2020) In the wake of nearly 650 confirmed cases of COVID-19 surrounding Sioux Falls-based Smithfield meat processing plant, state Democratic leaders request stronger mitigating measures to be taken by Governor Kristi Noem.
Over 1/2 of South Dakota’s total confirmed cases of the virus to date—now hovering at 1,311—stem from the lack of health and safety precautions revealed at the plant. And, the numbers are rising.
Sioux Falls mayor Paul TenHaken has repeatedly asked for local oversight, but Governor Noem’s executive orders have fallen short. Shelter-in-place orders currently cover only those over 65, and those with underlying health conditions living only in Minnehaha and Lincoln Counties. The order also allows these vulnerable individuals to still work in essential jobs, which could put them at further risk.
“Local control is best, and would have allowed the mayor and the county to protect our citizens locally. Rules should be in place to ensure businesses provide essential workers the safety equipment they need to do their job and stay healthy.” – Nikki Gronli, Vice Chair, SDDP
The Republican-majority state legislature was also provided the opportunity to allow counties and municipalities the ability to increase their decision-making power as early as March 30th, Legislative Veto Day. The bill didn’t receive the 2/3 number of votes needed to prevail.
Minority House leader Representative Jamie Smith states, “Democratic caucus leaders offered suggestions in a letter to the governor, to assist and minimize the effects of the virus on our state’s citizens. Although inroads were made by the governor and legislature in accepting many of the ideas, we need them to go the distance.”
Late last week, TenHaken and Noem sent Smithfield CEO Kenneth Sullivan a letter, urging him to close the plant for two weeks. Sullivan did not respond, but instead made a surprise announcement to close the plant indefinitely. The South Dakota Democratic Party hopes proactive recovery plans may be coordinated by state and local authorities.
“Moving forward, we should take more cues from union leaders, who have stepped up to not only bring the Smithfield situation to light, but also to offer protection to our valuable workforce.” – Randy Seiler, Chair, SDDP
Kooper Caraway, President of Sioux Falls AFL-CIO, oversees union representatives that assist 36 unions with 20,000 members statewide.
He states, “Governmental imposed shutdowns of facilities wouldn’t cause so much anxiety if our workers had guaranteed sick leave and paid family leave. Right now, South Dakota workers don’t have these protections; they have no guarantee other than minimum wage. Governor Noem could set an example by supporting these ‘pro-worker’ solutions.”
Many wonder what will happen to the 3700 Smithfield workers and their families, now left in turmoil. Smithfield will provide employees with two weeks of pay, and if the shutdown continues, they will need to apply for unemployment. Unfortunately, they won’t be eligible for CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) funds since Smithfield employs over 500 people.
Representative Linda Duba, District 15 Sioux Falls, raised concerns with SD Department of Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman over large company shutdowns. The Secretary ensures they have the tools needed to support employees, including those whose primary language is not English.
“This is not a partisan issue; it is a responsibility issue. We are all responsible for not only ourselves both those impacted by this virus. We can and will work with all who come ready with ideas and a positive approach to slowing the spread and lifting up our fellow South Dakotans,” states Linda.
There are thousands of South Dakotans whose lives will be forever changed by this virus, whether it be physical, mental or financial. Governor Noem can help remedy the situation by issuing shelter-in-place orders for all in the Sioux Falls area, and offer strict guidelines to businesses and industries serving in essential capacities.
Taking her authority one step further, Governor Noem should consider an Executive Order to expand Medicaid in the state of South Dakota. She can also suggest tapping into state budget reserves to expand mental health services, educate or re-train workers, and create new sustainably-based jobs.
Medicaid expansion would provide health care not only for the estimated 55,000 individuals prior to COVID-19, but also for individuals and their families now put in precarious situations due to the virus. South Dakota is one of only 14 states that haven’t taken advantage of Medicaid expansion.
The framework for South Dakota’s economy has been weakened the last many months. Everyone will struggle, at their level of vulnerability. Unemployment payments, Medicaid expansion, and use of South Dakota’s state budget reserves would go a long way toward a concerted recovery effort.
“Working in a non-partisan way, we must utilize all the tools and resources in our toolbox to help in South Dakota’s recovery. We need all levels of leadership to work together, blurring the lines of partisanship, to create a tide that lifts all boats.” – Jamie Smith, SD House Minority Leader.
Pam Cole, Executive Director, SDDP 605-695-1996 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Nikki Gronli, Vice Chair, SDDP 605-376-3337 or email@example.com