First Two States Declare Grocery Workers ‘Emergency Personnel’ — What It Means

A supermarket employee is seen as the coronavirus continues to spread across the United States on March 18, 2020 in Various Cities. The World Health Organization declared coronavirus (COVID-19) a global pandemic on March 11th.

Minnesota and Vermont just made official announcements that mirror what we’re all feeling: during the COVID-19 pandemic, grocery store employees have become “emergency personnel.”

As Americans have rallied to adhere to social distancing guidelines, the grocery supply-chain — comprised primarily of low-wage earners — is on people’s minds in unprecedented ways.

For Minnesotans and Vermonters, the “essential” designation is more than just a PR move to acknowledge those on the front lines of maintaining our food supply. By classifying grocery clerks, cleaning staff, food truck drivers, and other grocery personnel “Essential Tier 2 Workers,” Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has directed that these critical workers have access to free child care.

Per state directive, “Districts should make every effort to provide care for school-age children of workers in the areas below, if they are able to do so while adhering to the Minnesota Department of Health’s social distancing guidelines.” In Minnesota, districts are required to provide cost-free childcare to Tier 1 Workers, such as police, firefighters, and water-treatment workers. It is unclear right now what making “every effort” to provide care for kids of Tier 2 Workers means in a practical sense, as is whether its is possible to provide adequate childcare while simultaneously “adhering to social-distancing guidelines.”

Likewise, Vermont is planning to reimburse private childcare centers who care for its essential workers.

Vermont Governor Phil Scott said at a press conference Wednesday that his state’s child-care centers are asked to close except for children of essential personnel. Public safety commissioner Michael Schirling announced that his department had received a work order directing it to add grocery and food supply-chain workers to the growing list of “essential employees.”

Many across the United States have been calling for lawmakers to take notice of the importance of grocery workers during the coronavirus crisis.

As our response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we expect other states to follow Minnesota and Vermont’s lead.

 

[Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images]

Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos

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