Resources for the LGBTQ+ Community During Coronavirus

Resources for the LGBTQ+ Community During Coronavirus

This blog post was written by Health Law & Policy Clinic student Leigh Thomas (’21).

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a new virus with many unknowns. The severity of the outbreak and the impact of containment measures on communities are changing daily. The LGBTQ+ community faces unique challenges and vulnerabilities during this public health emergency. What follows are resources and action items for the LGBTQ+ population during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Heightened Risks

On March 11th, a coalition of LGBTQ+ health-focused organizations published an open letter outlining the heightened risks of COVID-19 for LGBTQ+ people and recommended actions. The letter identifies three key factors that increase the vulnerability of the LGBTQ+ population:

(1) high tobacco rates (50% higher than the general population);

(2) higher rates of HIV and cancer, leading to compromised immune systems; and

(3) experiences of discrimination, unwelcoming attitudes, and lack of understanding from providers and staff in health care settings.

In addition to these factors, the organizations highlight that LGBTQ+ elders face particular risks as they are more likely to be estranged from family and isolated from key social and health services.

Picture describing why LGBTQ+ persons are more vulnerable to COVID19The organizations recommend various actions that would serve the LGBTQ+ community during the outbreak, including ensuring that health messaging includes information tailored to the LGBTQ+ population; providing LGBTQ+ individuals resources to find welcoming providers; ensuring that any surveillance efforts capture sexual orientation and gender identity as a part of routine demographics; and, ensuring that all COVID-19 communications counter xenophobic responses and avoid racial profiling.

GMHC has released a best practices guide for providers serving LGBTQ older adults during the coronavirus pandemic, with tips on inclusive policies, addressing specific health needs, and promoting resilience and mental health.

Resources for Individuals

For LGBTQ+ individuals who believe they may have COVID-19, GLMA and the Human Rights Campaign each list LGBTQ+-friendly medical providers. Be sure to follow local health guidance and call ahead before seeing a medical provider for coronavirus testing. Federal Qualified Health Centers (community-based health care providers based in underserved areas) have also been receiving guidance on how to be LGBTQ+ welcoming (and offer care on a sliding fee scale); find a local one here.

Picture of a person on phone

Many LGBTQ+ organizations, both national and local, are organizing community calls for people to feel connected and supported. (Credit: The Gender Spectrum Collection)

The National Center for Transgender Equality has compiled a COVID-19 guide for transgender individuals, with information about heightened risk for trans people and recommendations for creating a plan of action. The Transgender Law Center is organizing a series of community calls as a space to connect, ask questions and receive support. RSVP for these virtual community gatherings here.

The National Institutes of Health published an Interim Guidance for COVID-19 and people living with HIV. Fenway Health has also released a longer guide to coronavirus considerations for people living with HIV, including tips for managing stress and anxiety.

Action Items

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many with a sense of hopelessness—but there are some actions everyone can take now.

Several states across the country are continuing to consider bills prohibiting healthcare for transgender youth and excluding transgender youth from athletics. The ACLU has a map of anti-trans bills by state. Advocates in those states can call representatives to protest the passage of these bills.

Community health centers serving the LGBTQ+ community should keep an eye out for funding coming from the new federal stimulus bill. The bill includes $1.3 billion in emergency funding for community health centers. This funding is desperately needed as community health centers with already strapped budgets face reductions in billable services. Other foundations, such as the Tegan and Sara Foundation, have also put out a call for proposals to disperse community grants to small non-profits and others assisting the LGBTQ+ community during the pandemic.

Access to health insurance is a crucial issue during this time. LGBTQ people are more likely than non-LGBTQ people to lack health coverage. Several states have applied for waivers from the federal government to expand access to Medicaid and allow for quicker enrollment in the program. Advocates can contact local representatives to demand similar action. To increase access to private health insurance on state health exchanges, several states have declared that uninsured individuals are eligible for Special Enrollment Periods to get covered during the current emergency. Uninsured LGBTQ people may want to take advantage of these opportunities to enroll in health coverage plans at this important time.

The views reflected in this blog are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation or Harvard Law School. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.

New Horizons For The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program In Disasters And Pandemics (D-SNAP & P-SNAP)

Originally published on April 1, 2020 by Farm Bill Law Enterprise (FBLE). Written by Juston Jaco, FLPC student.

While it’s currently a challenge not to keep up with the latest developments on COVID-19, you might not know that states have been tirelessly submitting requests to the federal government for major disaster declarations. At the time of this writing, New York, California, Washington, Louisiana, Iowa, New Jersey, Georgia, Oregon, Connecticut, Kentucky, South Carolina, Missouri, Maryland, Illinois, Florida, Texas, Colorado, Michigan, and Massachusetts, as well as Guam and Puerto Rico, have received approval of their disaster declarations. These declarations have several implications for feeding the most vulnerable populations in the U.S., especially those with electronic benefit transfer (EBT) (i.e., enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)).

After a natural disaster, and at the request of a state’s governor, the president may issue a Declaration of a Major Disaster when the state’s capacity to offer emergency services is overwhelmed, typically during severe weather events or other naturally occurring phenomena. Following a major disaster declaration, the federal government can provide three types of assistance: individual assistance, public assistance, and hazard mitigation assistance. The official declaration entitles the state to implement a broad range of federal assistance during its relief efforts. One program available under individual assistance is the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP).

As the Food Research & Action Center explains: “The federal Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act authorizes the president to establish D-SNAP following a disaster declaration, and Executive Order [No. 11795, as amended under Executive Order No. 12673,] delegates this authority to the Secretary of Agriculture. This means that following a presidential declaration of a disaster, USDA may conduct D-SNAP without the president’s further approval or involvement.” States then work with USDA to evaluate options for providing relief and may request authorization of D-SNAP as one of those mechanisms. Importantly, D-SNAP approval requires that normal channels of food distribution (i.e.,  grocery stores or semi-operational grocery supermarkets) be functioning in order to successfully and efficiently feed the affected individuals, and, ultimately, provide an economic boost to the hardest hit communities. D-SNAP allows for broad state and local government discretion to deliver food and benefits for purchasing food to those affected by the disaster.

The original purpose of D-SNAP was to extend EBT benefits to households that would not normally be eligible for—but suddenly need—rapid food assistance after a major disaster. Hence, qualifying participants who already receive SNAP benefits could get more aid (up to the maximum monthly allotment) while those who did not previously qualify could obtain D-SNAP benefits without the onerous delays in verification and reporting requirements. Expanding food assistance quickly eases the administrative burden on affected states. While D-SNAP is generally limited to a one-time payment for food assistance, it may be extended in extraordinary circumstances (i.e. prolonged periods of food insecurity well after a major disaster declaration). Other non-food, disaster-related expenses can be deducted from income and resources when determining an applicant’s eligibility to receive disaster aid.

In the past, D-SNAP has been used following natural disasters like flooding, fires, and storms, but not for a public health pandemic like the one we are now experiencing.

Yet, in the wake of COVID-19, policymakers have sought ways of counteracting food insecurity. In a matter of days, state-wide closures caused a series of events to happen one after the other—a veritable domino effect—that made us wonder how vulnerable populations would get access to food assistance. Because measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 include decreasing interactions between individuals (known collectively as “social distancing”), we witnessed how deeply isolation interfered with the food supply, including children missing school meals, parents losing pay and access to food, and other basic necessities being cut off.

The chain reaction was so strongly felt that Congress created a whole new SNAP, called Pandemic SNAP (P-SNAP). Similar to a special version of SNAP authorized during the A/H1N1 outbreak of 2009 (and since expired), P-SNAP essentially fills the food gaps after schools close. The recent Congress-authorized program provides EBT benefits to students, and (potentially) their families, who receive free and reduced price school meals. According to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, “[d]uring fiscal year 2020, in any case in which a school is closed for at least 5 consecutive days during a public health emergency designation during which the school would otherwise be in session, each household containing at least 1 member who is an eligible child attending the school shall be eligible to receive assistance pursuant to a state agency plan.”

States must elect to participate in P-SNAP and submit plans to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for approval. The USDA has issued guidance on state plans and all states should submit their plans as quickly as possible so that they can begin enrolling individuals—and avoid delays—in the difficult weeks ahead. For the 40+ million people living in food-insecure households, this P-SNAP paramount.

Once approved to operate P-SNAP, states would allow every household with at least one student on free and reduced school meals to be eligible for new EBT benefits.  These benefit levels are set by USDA and cannot be less than the value of free breakfast and lunch over the course of five school days for each eligible child in the household. States are to distribute these benefits to families in monthly allotments, based on the average number of cancelled school days or average date for the end of school closure. In other words, this helps account for lost school meals. Households will need to complete an application with their state agency to enroll. More information on the process is soon to come, but the USDA should provide technical assistance to states that submit P-SNAP plans and approve plans right away.

The D-SNAP and P-SNAP programs reflect the unpredictability of an endlessly interconnected world, and, one by one, states are declaring major disasters because all types of assistance are needed at this time. D-SNAP and P-SNAP are a small but vital part of the support needed to keep the families fed amidst the spread of COVID-19. Both catastrophic and pandemic situations are disasters in their own right and have significant public health complications. Because the President has already declared major disasters in the states listed above—with others likely on the way—there appears to be little stopping USDA and individual states from implementing D-SNAP in the coming weeks or months. In order to expedite the availability of D-SNAP nationwide, the President should issue a national declaration of “Major Disaster Assistance.” Once declared, states should uniformly work with the USDA and FEMA to make D-SNAP benefits available to their communities. At that point, P-SNAP and D-SNAP can work in tandem to help alleviate food insecurity during this trying time.

Juston Jaco, M.Sc., is a Master of Public Health candidate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and currently enrolled in the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic. 

For additional Congressional opportunities to combat food insecurity, see HLS Food Law & Policy Clinic’s Issue Brief, Feeding People in their Homes: Opportunities to Bolster Home Food Delivery for Vulnerable Communities.

The views reflected in this blog are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation or Harvard Law School. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.

Federal Court Certifies Class of Vermont Inmates Challenging Unlawful Restrictions to Hepatitis C Treatment

Vermont correctional facilities deny hundreds of inmates access to life-saving treatment without medical justification; Coronavirus underscores danger of withholding access to critical care.

The coronavirus pandemic underscores our government’s fundamental responsibility to preserve public health by containing the spread of communicable viral infections. State prisons, where conditions are a breeding ground for a virus, are currently at the center of such efforts.

While direct antiviral treatment for COVID-19 remains unavailable, we do have a cure for another infectious viral disease that affects hundreds of Vermont prisoners and thousands of Vermonters in the community—hepatitis C (HCV). Yet, Vermont’s prison officials continue to deny this cure to hundreds of incarcerated Vermonters diagnosed with HCV.

On Monday, Judge William K. Sessions of the United States District Court for the District of Vermont in Burlington handed these inmates a victory when he certified a class of Vermont inmates challenging these practices. In a 23-page opinion, Judge Sessions denied the State’s Motion to Dismiss the lawsuit and approved the request of two individuals to stand-in for all other inmates being denied critically necessary medical treatment for HCV. The lawsuit, entitled West v. Smith, will now enter into the discovery phase of litigation.  

The Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation (CHLPI) and the ACLU of Vermont, with cooperating counsel James Valente of Costello Valente & Gentry, P.C. filed the class action lawsuit in May 2019 on behalf of Richard West, a former Vermont inmate, and Joseph Bruyette, a current Vermont inmate.

The Complaint describes the policy and practice of the Agency of Human Services (AHS), Department of Corrections (DOC), and Centurion of Vermont to delay and deny antiviral treatment to prisoners diagnosed with chronic HCV. The Plaintiffs argue that DOC’s refusal to provide treatment is unconstitutional because it violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The recent decision by the federal district court in Burlington will allow West and Bruyette to represent all inmates who have been or will be denied effective, efficient, and medically appropriate HCV treatment.

“Certification of a class is an extraordinarily important step forward. Our lawsuit asks the court to require that Vermont recognize the basic health care rights of all individuals in DOC custody. DOC is obligated to provide access to medically necessary care. With a class certification in hand, Vermont can no longer characterize our lawsuit or the many grievances of its prisoners as isolated individual complaints, but instead must explain Vermont DOC’s system-wide failures to the public and the court,” said Jay Diaz, Senior Staff Attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont.

“We look forward to presenting evidence that Vermont Corrections has a widespread practice of delaying and denying treatment for Hepatitis C while individuals are in its custody. If the cure for any other communicable viral infection – like coronavirus or HIV — was to be discovered, we would not tolerate withholding or delaying treatment from our prison population while officials stood by and watched. There would be no acceptance for the official line of: ‘We need to wait until you get really sick before we treat you.’ But that’s what inmates in Vermont with Hepatitis C are being told. It’s unconscionable,” said Kevin Costello, Director of Litigation at the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School.

“HCV is curable and preventable, and no one deserves to be denied effective treatment. If we are going to stop the spread of HCV infection in Vermont and across the United States, it is critical that we expand access to DAA treatment to all who need it. Class certification should force a long overdue public reckoning with the fact that Vermont officials have needlessly endangered people’s lives and allowed a curable disease to spread,” said Lia Ernst, Senior Staff Attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont.

HCV is a progressive infectious disease that if left untreated is likely to cause a variety of medical symptoms, including hypertension, cardiovascular disorders, permanent liver damage, and in some cases, cancer and death. More than five years ago, the FDA approved breakthrough medication with few side effects that effectively cures the disease. With high initial prices for DAA drugs, several correctional health facilities created unfair systems to reduce their costs, including by limiting access to DAA therapies based on disease severity (as measured by liver damage), and based on periods of sobriety from drugs and/or alcohol before treatment, among other things.

Advocates in Vermont have long sought to end correctional facilities’ unfair restrictions to HCV treatment, a practice that prolongs suffering and increases individuals’ risk of long-term, poor health outcomes. The danger, however, is further underscored by the current Coronavirus pandemic, which poses a higher risk of life-threatening symptoms for those with pre-existing conditions.

The opinion and order to certify the class is here.

This press release is available here. 

Alabama and Massachusetts are giving the addresses of people diagnosed with coronavirus to police in a bid to contain the virus

Originally published on April 1, 2020 by Daily Mail. Written by James Gordon.

  • Alabama and Massachusetts are handing details of people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 to the police and other emergency services

  • Daily lists are compiled and sent over so that police or ambulance crews sent on calls will know in advance if they’re dealing with an infected person 
  • Only addresses are sent on the list and no full names are captured
  • Both states promise to delete the information when the crisis is finally over
  • Civil rights activists say the orders are in clear breach of patients’ privacy 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

The states of Alabama and Massachusetts are now giving the details of people who are known to have been diagnosed with coronavirus to the police.  

Alabama has been providing the addresses but not names to law enforcement and other emergency responders for more than a week. 

The information is supposed to be given to officers when they go out on calls.   

Alabama and Massachusetts are handing details of people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 to the police and other emergency services


‘It’s only on an as-known, as-needed basis,’ said Leah Missildine, executive director of Alabama’s 911 Board to Vice

‘The impetus behind this is to protect first responders because 911 receives the information and coordinates the response of first responders. That was deemed the most efficient way to share this information.’   

‘The Alabama Department of Public Health was requested to provide addresses of patients home quarantined for COVID 19 to the Alabama 9-1-1 Board for the protection of first responders,’ said Arrol Sheehan, director of public information at the Alabama Department of Public Health.

The state of Alabama could also release information to third parties including doctors or anyone else who could be deemed to be exposed. 

Daily lists are compiled and sent over so that any calls that are made by police or ambulance crews will know in advance if they are dealing with a virus carrier (file photo)

The state say the rule came into force to help protect first responders, in particular.   

Sheehan quoted the part of Alabama law that authorizes such disclosures: ‘Physicians or the State Health Officer or his designee may notify a third party of the presence of a contagious disease in an individual where there is a foreseeable, real or probable risk of transmission of the disease.’

Sheehan said the decision was made mutually between the health department and the members of the 9-1-1 Board ‘to share this information to protect our first responders.’ 

In Massachusetts, the exact same system has also been operating for almost two weeks.

Each day, daily lists are sent over to police forces and ambulance crews across the state. 

The state say that no information will be kept about who was known to be sick once the crisis is over.  

Robert Greenwald, clinical professor of law at Harvard Law School, has called Massachusetts’ order ‘misguided.’ 

Officer Shaun Gariepy, left, and Officer Jessie Murray wipe down all the surfaces that are regularly touched on their cruiser at the beginning of their shift. Many police officers are following new cleaning and safety procedures amid the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country

‘Requiring local boards of health to disclose the addresses of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to officials administering the response to emergency calls and, in turn, to first responders, is not sound public health policy,’ he wrote in a statement.

Meanwhile, civil rights advocates say the policy ends up putting first responders in danger because many coronavirus carriers don’t show symptoms.  

‘It’s based on an early and mistaken idea that the disease was only spread by people who were obviously symptomatic,’ Dr. Deborah Peel, founder of the advocacy group Patient Privacy Rights, said. 

‘We now know that that’s wrong, so it makes no sense. Everybody should act in a careful, social distancing way to interact with anybody’s door they have to knock on.’ 

Alabama currently has 993 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 23 confirmed deaths from the disease. Massachusetts has 6,620 current cases and 89 deaths.

Addresses of coronavirus-positive residents handed over to police in some states

Originally published on April 1, 2020 by Yahoo Finance. Written by Stephanie Pagones.

Alabama and Massachusetts health officials are sharing with law enforcement the addresses of people diagnosed with new coronavirus so emergency responders can be properly prepared when answering 911 calls involving those who have tested positive.

The personal information is limited to the addresses of people who have known COVID-19 cases, and is only provided to first responders, such as police officers, according to the respective laws.

“It’s only on an as-known, as-needed basis,” Leah Missildine, executive director of Alabama’s 911 Board, told VICE News in a story published Tuesday. “The impetus behind this is to protect first responders because 9-1-1 receives the information and coordinates the response of first responders.”

As of Wednesday morning, at least 999 COVID-19 cases and 24 deaths were reported in Alabama, data from Johns Hopkins University and Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center shows.

The 911 Board will receive daily address reports provided by the Alabama Department of Health, and will then distribute information to designated recipients, according to the report.

A spokesperson for Alabama’s Department of Public Health said in an emailed statement to FOX Business that the department “was requested to provide addresses of patients home quarantined for COVID-19 to the Alabama 911 Board for the protection of first responders. Please note that only addresses and not names were to be given.”

The permissions were included in a state law enacted in March that extends to doctors and others who are potentially at risk.

The spokesperson pointed to a specific line in the law, which states: “Physicians or the State Health Officer or his designee may notify a third party of the presence of a contagious disease in an individual where there is a foreseeable, real or probable risk of transmission of the disease.”

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts order that took effect on March 18 calls for local health boards to provide designated emergency response officials with the addresses of COVID-19-positive residents living in their jurisdictions.

At least 620 COVID-19 cases and 89 deaths have been reported in Massachusetts, according to data from Wednesday morning.

“The disclosure of information shall be limited to the address, and shall not include any other identifying information, including name,” the order states.

But the order has received opposition from a number of people, such as Robert Greenwald, faculty director of the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School.

Greenwald wrote a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker on March 20, in which he called the emergency order “misguided” and said it would “undermine both individual and public health.”

“Our first responders must treat everyone as if they potentially have COVID-19 and use universal precautions on all calls,” he wrote. “Relying on information provided by state health officials is not helpful. There will be no effective ‘list’ as the overwhelming majority of people who are infected with COVID-19 do not know it. And sadly, over time, more than half the addresses in our state will likely end up on the list.”

Waste not, want not

Originally published on April 1, 2020 by Harvard Law Today. Written by Emily Newburger.

HLS Food Law and Policy Clinic steps up its efforts in time of pandemic

During a pandemic, a lot of things come to a halt, but one thing that never ceases is our need for a reliable supply of safe, nutritious food. Harvard Law School Professor Emily Broad Leib ’08, director of the HLS Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), and her students have been working furiously to ensure that the most vulnerable—and ultimately the rest of us—are fed.

Broad Leib and the clinic have long been a resource for food producers, food-focused nonprofits, government agencies, legislators, policy experts, and other food system stakeholders. But since early March, as the COVID-19 crisis has grown, she and a team of students and clinic staff have worked around the clock, writing briefs aimed at saving tons of food that could feed the hungry, and working to inform the response to COVID-19, including legislation that Congress has been hammering out.

As universities suddenly began to move to online learning and close down most campus operations, and many businesses reduced hours or shut their doors, Broad Leib knew this would leave behind excess food. The clinic mobilized quickly to prepare a handout urging organizations not to shutter without passing on food that could feed the hungry, explaining liability protections and tax incentives for food donations, and providing information on where and how to donate food. Many organizations responded, including Harvard Law School, which now has a food donation program in the works.According to Feeding America, a national network of food banks, one in seven Americans relied on food banks to get enough to eat before the pandemic. The clinic is a national leader in policy efforts to prevent food waste and promote food recovery, which it undertakes by partnering to provide legal and policy support to a range of programs that pick up excess food from universities, restaurants, and other organizations and get it to food banks.

Broad Leib also understood that the basic problem the clinic has been addressing was about to grow dramatically. “There are already so many people who were in vulnerable situations,” she says. “The crisis has exacerbated food access challenges for those people, and it has added so many more individuals and families in need. Workers are losing jobs, especially those doing hourly work—many, in fact, who work in the food industry. We are going to see a huge increase in people who suddenly need help getting basic needs met, especially food.”

COVID-19 also adds a complex new layer to concerns about food safety. Not only are more people going to need food; they also need safer ways to get it. As the emphasis on the importance of social distancing has increased, new ways must be found to deliver food directly to seniors and immunocompromised individuals in their homes.

In response, the clinic put out a brief with recommendations for federal and state governments, as well as for agencies such as FEMA and the USDA, looking at opportunities under existing government programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, to facilitate food delivery during the COVID-19 crisis. They also have come up with proposals for getting food from food banks and other organizations delivered directly to people’s doors, and for getting Congress to supplement existing community-based food delivery organizations.

The clinic shared its brief with contacts in Congress on March 23 as the House and Senate, the president, executive agencies, and state governments across the country debated many of these policies. They have been working closely with members of Congress, helping support congressional requests to the USDA to use its authority to support food delivery. The team is also tracking state and local policies to stay on top of the best models for how state and local governments are ensuring vulnerable people stay fed in this crisis.

The brief also encourages investment in a growing number of technology solutions that match food donors to recovery organizations that pick up and deliver the donated foods, such as Food Rescue Hero and Replate.

“We make the point that these technologies can be really responsive to the challenges of the moment,” says Broad Leib, “but most of them have been developed by small nonprofits. Helping them scale up quickly to meet the needs of the growing number of people who need food support is going to require an investment.”

This is probably one of the most meaningful projects I have worked on since coming to law school, if not in my life.

Jesse Lazarus ’22

Jesse Lazarus ’22, a student in Broad Leib’s Food Law and Policy seminar, played a major role in preparing this brief, focusing on public-private partnerships, describing existing efforts, and making policy recommendations to expand home delivery. “This is probably one of the most meaningful projects I have worked on since coming to law school, if not in my life,” says Lazarus. “It is an experience I will likely recall for many years to come, as I think back on this incredibly challenging time for the U.S. and the world.”

Broad Leib and the clinic also focused on anticipated new challenges to the food system as a whole, in particular the loss of market access for the many farmers and producers who sell in farmers markets or depend on large purchases by schools and universities. The clinic collaborated with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to propose legislative actions to unlock already appropriated funding to these farmers, and to redirect funds that will be underutilized during this crisis. “Local foods are now a $12 million business in the U.S.,” Broad Leib says. “We don’t want these food producers to go out of business or sell their farms.”

Brianna Johnson-King ’21, a student now in the clinic for her second semester, worked on that brief, researching what flexibility existing statutes allowed. She found, for example, that a statute that supplies vouchers to low-income seniors to purchase food at farmers markets could also allow the government to make bulk purchases directly from farmers for distribution to seniors, a step that could help ensure the money is flowing to small farmers even if farmers markets are closed during COVID-19.

Johnson-King grew up in rural Ohio and has a strong interest in agriculture and the farmer’s perspective. As she researched and wrote for the brief from home, she kept the TV on in the background. The situation worsened from hour to hour as more cities and states announced shutdowns and farmers markets voluntarily closed. She says she felt the pressure: “In the back of my mind, I’m thinking, ‘Are we going to get this out in time for Congress to have a chance to act on any of it?’”

The clinic got that brief out by March 23 and followed it up with a companion document for state governments. By March 27, both the Senate and House had passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which includes funding for direct assistance to food producers, and President Trump had signed it into law. “The act does not directly address the changes we recommended; however, it still provides funding for the local and regional producers we aim to help,” Johnson-King says.

Broad Leib believes they are gaining traction. The clinic is involved in ongoing discussions with members of Congress on other aspects of the brief that may find their way into the next relief package. She is also looking ahead to the impact that COVID-19 may have on the food supply chain as a whole. “I don’t intend to cause panic, but I am certainly thinking about that.”

“A lot of the workers harvesting our crops are coming across the border,” says Broad Leib. “We need to be sure that we are keeping them safe and taking care of them. At the same time, we hear that in agriculture and manufacturing, trying to do social distancing and keep workers safe means having fewer people work at one time. That means we will have to be creative about meeting demand.” But Broad Leib also sees opportunities: “This may be the time for us to be more thoughtful about how we are regulating food and compensating and protecting workers—supporting food from farm to fork. If what comes out of this is that we better appreciate the value of the people and the resources that go into producing our food, that will be a silver lining.”

“It’s been a really chaotic and frightening time,” Broad Leib says. “It’s as if everywhere we turn there are ways this crisis is impacting the food system.” She goes on: “I’ve been blown away at the number of our students who have reached out and asked to help, even during spring break. They dove in to this important work while they were also in the midst of moving, transitioning to remote learning, and figuring out their new lives. It’s been amazing. Our students are always amazing, but never more so than in this time.”

See the Food Law and Policy Clinic’s COVID-19 Response website for more information and resources.

Related Video

In 2016, the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, in partnership with Racing Horse Productions, released the short film “EXPIRED? Food Waste in America.” The film explores how misleading date labels on food products contribute to food waste in America. According to FLPC, every year, 40% of the food produced in the United States goes uneaten, leading to 160 billion pounds of wasted food in our landfills.


Emily Broad Leib talks Food Law and COVID-19

Originally published by Food Tank.


Today on “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg,” Dani interviews Emily Broad Leib, Clinical Professor at Harvard Law School & Director of Harvard Law School’s Food Law & Policy Clinic, about protecting and promoting better wages for food workers in the COVID-19 crisis. “If part of what comes from this is that we realize all the people who are handling the food from the beginning on the farm to the end of the chain are really vital. We need to treat them better, pay them better, give them benefits,” says Broad Leib. 

You can listen to “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg” on Apple iTunesStitcherGoogle Play MusicSpotify, or wherever you consume your podcasts. While you’re listening, subscribe, rate, and review the show; it would mean the world to us to have your feedback.

Food waste impacts emerging as coronavirus shifts life from commercial to residential

Originally published on March 25, 2020 by Waste Dive. Written by E.A. Crunden.

Dive Brief:

  • Food waste experts are slowly assessing the short and long-term impacts of the new coronavirus, which remain murky. With the fallout likely stretching into coming months, some are worried about supply chain impacts — including food recovery for donation — as well as a future uptick in waste amid dramatic lifestyle alterations. 
  • Initial volume shifts are unclear at the moment, but a major surge in grocery purchases appears to be driving a decline in food waste associated with retail. Higher education and entertainment venue closures, however, are generating greater amounts than usual, while the shuttering of farmer’s markets is also expected to drive an increase in discarded products.   
  • One concern is public demand for food may lead to an uptick in waste, not only through organics, but through packaging as people shift to takeout and delivery. “I think waste is very low priority [for people right now], but food is very high priority,” Dana Gunders, executive director of ReFED, told Waste Dive. Her organization and the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) are sharing resources aimed at connecting those issues.

Dive Insight:

As with other parts of the waste and recycling sector, experts say it is difficult to assess at this early stage how the pandemic will ultimately impact food waste volumes as people adapt to dramatically new systems. 

“​Now more than ever, one of the concerns I’ve had is making sure that as much food as can be donated gets there first, before we compost [or throw it out],” Emily Broad Leib, FLPC director, told Waste Dive. 

In an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19, a number of cities and several states are recommending everything from basic social distancing measures to wide-scale orders to stay at home. While officials have underscored there is no current concern about food insecurity, people have largely been clearing out grocery stores, sparking a reduction in food waste from retail, according to Leib. 

That sudden dearth of supply is impacting systems created to channel discarded food items towards those in need, through outlets like food banks and other recovery organizations. Gunders said ReFED was still in the process of obtaining numbers around decreased volumes, but shared anecdotally many groups are having to rethink the logistics behind their work.

“They are concerned about a shortage of food,” she said. “A lot of them are just buying food [from stores], and they’ll need to do more and more of that as times goes on. They’re pretty nervous.”

With unemployment spiking dramatically and income concerns rising, these issues could be compounded in coming months. Other sources of concern are also emerging, including farmer’s markets. While officials in areas including Washington, D.C. and New York City have exempted farmer’s markets from bans on public gatherings due to their function as food retailers, a decline in patrons is forcing their closure regardless, as is a reliance on often elderly volunteers. Those decisions are leaving farmers without a common outlet for income, while potentially driving up waste as a result when they cannot sell their products. 

Even as supply chains collapse in some areas, they are momentarily appearing elsewhere. Many schools have closed and sent students home, as have corporate campuses and similar spaces. Some of those closures have come coupled with efforts to reduce food waste. Disneyland, for example, closed last week and said the theme park would donate its excess food to the Second Harvest Food Bank in Orange County, California. Both Gunders and Leib also said universities have reached out to food waste organizations in some cases to assist with overflow.

But other longer-term issues are looming. While cities including San Francisco and New York told Waste Dive their curbside organics collection programs remain ongoing, small-scale organics collection companies in areas such as Boston and New Orleans are suspending or scaling back operations. That means a decline in access to resource recovery efforts, likely spurring an uptick in MSW at the residential level.

Meanwhile, an abrupt shift to takeout from otherwise shuttered restaurants could offer competing advantages and disadvantages for those seeking to curb waste volumes. “I think we’re going to move to a lot more food being delivered to homes,” said Leib. “In a way, it may lead to increased efficiency … if people are ordering, you can plan better.”

However, that pivot could also generate an uptick in packaging waste outside of food volumes.

“I imagine all of this is going to have a long tail in terms of some of those effects,” said Gunders, noting decisions made now could have a severe impact in the months to come.  

She hopes answers will come sooner rather than later. ReFED is waiting on the results of survey data offering an idea of food waste shifts and volumes. Gunders said she is optimistic those numbers will become available in the next week or two.

Feeding People in their Homes: Opportunities to Bolster Home Food Delivery for Vulnerable Communities

This post was written by FLPC staff.

Across the United States, individuals are being told to implement social distancing protocols to slow the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Cities and states are issuing shelter in place orders to keep individuals in their homes. Recognizing that food is essential, these orders generally allow for individuals to leave their homes to gather food and other household supplies. However, seniors, individuals with compromised immune systems, and individuals experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 are being advised to stay at home. These individuals need access to food delivery. Further, areas hardest hit by COVID-19 have a vested interest in making it easy for people to stay at home and avoid crowded grocery stores.

Many restaurants and grocery stores are still engaging in home delivery. While purchasing these products does not pose a problem for those with stable incomes, vulnerable individuals and families are in need of free or low-cost home food deliveries.

The Food Law and Policy Clinic today released an issue brief detailing opportunities in non-crisis food assistance programs, disaster programs, and food donation programs through which the federal government and state governments could facilitate food delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic. The brief analyzes places where modifications are needed to allow food delivery, where existing programs could be bolstered, and where there are opportunities for new programs. Recommendations include:

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

  • Roll out national online purchasing option as quickly as possible (USDA)
  • Remove the SNAP restriction on payment prior to delivery (Congress)
  • Pay for delivery fees, to ensure SNAP recipients have equal spending power whether ordering online or going to stores (USDA or state governments)

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)

  • Implement home delivery programs as a food delivery method (state governments)
  • Allow for online purchases (Congress)

National School Lunch Program

  • Eliminate the 50% free/reduced price recipients threshold for food service in places where schools are closed (Congress)
  • Approve school food authorities to home deliver meals (states governments)

Facilitate delivery of foods from food banks and food donations

  • Further increase the administrative funds available within The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) to support home delivery of TEFAP foods (Congress)
  • Provide tax benefits to incentivize volunteer drivers to deliver foods (Congress)
  • Offer funds to community based food delivery organizations and food recovery matching technology organizations to pay for vehicles, drivers, and technology expansion (Congress)

Visit our issue brief to learn more about each of these actions. These measures are by no means comprehensive. FLPC remains committed to working with nonprofits, community members, and policymakers to find innovative solutions to ensure free and low cost home delivery of foods to vulnerable individuals and families during this unprecedented crisis, and welcomes feedback on these proposals.

Applying Lessons Learned from the AIDS Epidemic to the Fight Against COVID-19

letter to Governor Charlie Baker from CHLPI’s Faculty Director Robert Greenwald. 

March 20, 2020 

The Honorable Charlie Baker  
Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts  
Boston, MA 02133  

Dear Governor Baker, 

I greatly appreciate your leadership in marshalling a strong response to COVID-19 here in Massachusetts. I know that you and the senior members of your administration are working hard to mitigate the inevitable harms that we are facing as a result of the pandemic.  

I am writing to point out one emergency order that was recently issued that is misguided and will, in fact, undermine both individual and public health. Requiring local boards of health to disclose the addresses of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to officials administering the response to emergency calls and, in turn, to first responders, is not sound public health policy.  

Our first responders must treat everyone as if they potentially have COVID-19 and use universal precautions on all calls. Relying on information provided by state health officials is not helpful. There will be no effective “list” as the overwhelming majority of people who are infected with COVID-19 do not know it. And sadly, over time, more than half the addresses in our state will likely end up on the list. Given this reality, sound public health policy during this pandemic dictates that first responders treat everyone as if they were infected with the Coronavirus.  

Screening is critical to addressing this pandemic and is the front line of slowing the spread of this disease. Once we have an effective testing and screening system in place, we must reduce all barriers to screening. Given the stigma and discrimination surrounding any infectious disease, the idea that our addresses will be disclosed to local officials and first responders will likely deter some people from being screened – particularly immigrants and other vulnerable populations who already live in fear and in the shadows because of the Trump administration’s policies.  

For those of us who lived through the start of the AIDS epidemic, the similarities with COVID-19 are apparent. I know first-hand as I have been working in health and public health law and policy for over 30 years. I was the original director of law and policy programs at the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, and served in that role from 1987-2000. I am currently a clinical professor of law at Harvard Law School, teaching public health law and serving as faculty director of the Law School’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation.  

As we were at the start of the AIDS epidemic, everyone is frightened. Everyone wants to feel safe and protected. And, of course, we all want to protect our first responders. One important lesson we learned from the AIDS epidemic is that a solution to addressing the legitimate concerns of first responders is not to identify those living with the disease – for the reasons articulated above, it will not make anyone safer and may actually put first responders at greater risk.  

What we need right now is to ensure that our first responders have up-to-date training on COVID-19, the protective equipment they so desperately require, and other supports that make it possible for them to do their job – such as providing child care for their children (given that our children are not in school), and priority screening to protect themselves and others.  

We need sound emergency orders. Free and universal testing must be made available to everyone. Resources must be committed to help address shortages of medical supplies, such as respirators. Medicaid and other safety net programs must be flexed to live up to their full potential. We should focus on these important objectives, and avoid invoking emergency orders that undermine individual and public health. 


Robert Greenwald 

CC:     Secretary Marylou Sudders, Executive Office of Health and Human Services  
            Commissioner Monica Bharel, Department of Public Health  
            Undersecretary Lauren Peters, Executive Office of Health and Human Services 

 Tell Governor Baker that you are concerned about this emergency order.  

To share your concerns regarding the recent emergency order with the Office of the Governor, send an email to Governor Charlie Baker (constituent.services@state.ma.us) with the following staff CC’d: Secretary Marylou Sudders (marylou.sudders@state.ma.us), Commissioner Monica Bharel (monica.bharel@state.ma.us), and Undersecretary Lauren Peters (lauren.b.peters@state.ma.us).  

Additionally, spread the word on social media and tag @HarvardCHLPIWe welcome you to use this sample tweetGovernor Baker’s recent emergency order to share the addresses of confirmed #COVID19 cases with first responders undermines both individual and public health. @HarvardCHLPI’s Faculty Director Robert Greenwald explains why in a letter to @MassGovernor: https://www.chlpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Greenwald-Response-to-Massachusetts-First-Responder-Order.pdf