In the Face of a Public Health Crisis, We Must Protect Our Most Vulnerable Populations



In the Face of a Public Health Crisis, We Must Protect Our Most Vulnerable Populations

While our elected officials have taken a strong lead in responding to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice asks everyone, especially those leaders, to focus their attention on our most vulnerable populations. From elections and voting, to housing, to food security, to health care, and more, the COVID-19 outbreak presents a disproportionately large threat to those communities. We must all come together to protect them.

NEW ORLEANS, LA | March 16, 2020—The COVID-19 outbreak is unprecedented. Even in Louisiana, where we have ample experience preparing for and responding to natural disasters, we will need to find new ways to adapt to this rapidly changing situation. Delaying Louisiana’s presidential primary and municipal elections is one of those necessary changes. We know there are more changes on the way as we work to ensure the safety of communities across Louisiana, and we commend our elected officials for taking decisive action.

“The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice (PCEJ– will always advocate and center people and their voice in the decision making processes that govern their lives. One way we do that is ensuring that our state has free, fair, and open elections,” said PCEJ Director of Strategic Partnerships Morgan Shannon. “We understand that the magnitude of this public health crisis necessitated delaying Louisiana’s upcoming elections. Election officials will have to properly implement this unprecedented change and, rest assured, we’ll be watching this situation closely and center the voices of every voter.”

However, as we enter this time of uncertainty, there is one thing of which we can be very certain: unless we act with an intentional focus on our most vulnerable communities, they will suffer the greatest harm during the trials we are about to encounter. It’s always been this way, and it’s hard to imagine that it will be any different this time around. Our hospitality workers are a perfect example of a community whose health and well-being is at high risk from this outbreak.

For the past five years, the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice and our partners have been touring Louisiana, asking people what they want and need in their communities. The answers were almost always the same. People want living wages, paid family and sick leave, and access to affordable health care, child care, transportation, and housing. 

“During the 2019 statewide elections, the voters we engaged made it clear that these issues remain critical to a better life, which is why they were clearly identified in our People’s Agenda,” according to PCEJ Executive Director Ashley Shelton. “In addition to our People’s Agenda, which is grounded in community, numerous polls show that a large majority of Louisianans wanted those same things.” 

As federal, state, and local officials respond to the outbreak, we have been pleased with the swift response of elected leaders and community. The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice calls on them to continue to work with health care providers, the private sector, and community organizations to make sure that our most vulnerable populations are our first thought, not an afterthought, as they have so often been treated in the past.

We ask our public and private sector leaders and partners to do the following:

  • Prioritize food and housing security for everyone
  • Suspend all evictions, foreclosures, utility shut-offs, and any other actions that would threaten people’s access to basic necessities
  • Provide paid sick leave for everyone who needs it, especially hospitality workers
  • Release as many people as we can from jails and prisons, and build out health care infrastructure for those who remain incarcerated–spread among incarcerated people is an immense danger to their lives and it will create an incubation zone for the virus
  • Extend voting by mail to every Louisianan (House Bill 419, sponsored by Rep. Mandie Landry, would accomplish this)
  • Be clear about new thresholds for early voting and absentee ballots given the new elections dates
  • Lengthen Early Voting and add more polling locations to reduce crowds
  • Train poll workers in health and safety precautions
  • Promote participation in the U.S. Census to ensure we sustain federal resources for times such as these

When this outbreak began, we were in the midst of a Census education campaign and given the health concerns are working via phone and text message to engage Louisianans in taking the Census. “Since we know that everyone who is able to stay home will be staying home for the next few weeks, why not take 10 minutes to fill out the Census,” asked PCEJ Census Director Janea Jamison. “A full and accurate count will be one of the key components that will determine how much money Louisiana will get to recover from this outbreak.” 

The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice works to build voice and power in traditionally ignored communities, with a focus on communities of color. We are a coalition of groups from across Louisiana whose mission is to organize in impacted communities, educate and turn out voters, and fight for policies that create a more equitable and just system in Louisiana.

What: Power Coalition for Equity and Justice responds to public health crisis and election delay.

When: March 16, 2020


Ashley Shelton, Executive Director, Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, (225) 802-2435,

Peter Robins-Brown, Communications Director, Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, (504) 256-8196,