April 09, 2020

America Must Address Major COVID-19 Racial Disparities

The coronavirus pandemic is a challenge unlike anything we have ever faced. I understand how scary this is and how desperate you are for answers. 

We have seen staggering evidence thatCOVID-19 disproportionately impacts African-Americans more than the overall population. According to the Centers for Disease Control, counties that are majority-Black have three times the rate of infections and almost six times the rate of deaths as counties where white residents are in the majority.

Unfortunately for Black communities, many residents are not provided with the “luxury” to work from home. African Americans are overrepresented in many frontline positions at grocery stores, restaurants and in transportation — jobs that are considered essential. 

Not only are these workers potentially being exposed, but they are not getting tested. This could partly be due to the limited access to affordable health care, lack of resources and environmental issues. Additionally,the underlining systemic health issues that have beset our community for years— high blood pressure, asthma, heart disease, diabetes — make us even more vulnerable. 

As this pandemic continues to evolve, I have been working to ensure that our state and local officials have the resources needed to keep our community safe and strong.Over the last month, Congress passed three bills to:

  • Provide $1,200 in direct payments to Floridians with incomes up to $75,000, plus $500 per child. Seniors on Social Security and non-tax filers are eligible; 
  • Support hospitals and healthcare workers: $500 million for personal protective equipment like masks, gloves and ventilators, and $200 billion for hospitals and local healthcare systems;
  • Provide up to a four-month extension of unemployment benefits at $600 a week. I have written Gov. Ron DeSantis and asked him to accept the federal disaster unemployment assistance and increase Florida’s unemployment payout from its current $275 a week to $600 a week. Extended unemployment to the self-employed, independent contractors and “gig” workers, such as Uber drivers. 
  • Increase Food Assistance: $15.8 billion for SNAP; $450 million to assist food banks; $8.8 billion for child nutrition programs;
  • Provide the Minority Business Development Agency $10 million to make grants to minority-owned businesses;
  • Provide $100 million for the Federal Bureau of Prisons to respond to the coronavirus pandemic with critical resources. 
  • Provide $1 billion for the Community Services Block Grant and $750 million for Head Start; and
  • Provide$1.1 billionofemergencyeducationrelieffundsforschools with large concentrations of low-income students.
  • Help small businesses with $349 billion for forgivable loans to pay their employees and keep them on the payroll, as well $10 billion in immediate disaster grants.

For the small business owners, I understand it is difficult operating during this challenging time. I am working with my colleagues in Congress to allocate additional dollars specifically targeted to small minority-owned businesses.    

And, while there are not enough words to express my depth of gratitude for those on the front lines, I would like to thank the health careprofessionals who are risking their lives to care for others, the first responders who are protecting our neighborhoods, and the grocery store clerks, garbage truck drivers, postal workers and all essential employees who are keeping our communities going. You are the real heroes. 

While health officials do their jobs, I urge you to do your part to prevent the spread of this virus.I will continue to pray for the families of those who have lost loved ones since the COVID-19 outbreak and to those continuing to battle this illness.

We are all called upon to be our best selves right now, and to do our part to help our families, friends and neighbors weather this storm.

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson represents Florida’s Fifth Congressional District, which stretches from Gadsden County to Jacksonville.