Economic Policy

April 27 COVID-19 Policy & Black Communities Roundup

This roundup reviews recent COVID-19 policy developments that affect Black communities. Click here for our COVID-19 policy page, which is constantly updated.

Last week, Congress passed and the President signed a $484 billion stimulus package which also required that federal officials disclose available racial data on COVID-19. The Joint Center hosted U.S. House Ed and Labor Chair Bobby Scott, former U.S. Education Secretary Dr. John King, and other leaders to discuss the impact of stimulus proposals on Black workers and students. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp started to reopen the state over the objections of many Black Southerners, and record unemployment claims continued.

This week, federal lawmakers are developing the next relief package, and Congressman Jim Clyburn is detailing his agenda as chair of a House committee that will police the use of federal coronavirus funds. 

Details below.

Stay safe and informed,

– Spencer Overton, President

Federal Lawmakers Pass Interim Stimulus

Last week, Congress passed and the President signed the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, which will allocate $484 billion in additional funding in response to COVID-19.

The bill provides an additional $320 billion for forgivable small business loans used to cover payroll and other basic expenses (the Paycheck Protection Program), $60 billion for Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loans, $75 billion to reimburse health care providers for expenses related to COVID-19, and $25 billion to expand capacity for COVID-19 testing. The law also provides $30 billion for Minority Depository Institutions, Community Development Financial Institutions, community lenders, and small community banks, and credit unions. The new law does not include any additional unemployment funding or relief for states and localities (which have seen significant declines in tax revenues).

The Congressional Black Caucus will hold a telephone town hall today at 2 pm ET on how to access the resources in law, and here’s a National Urban League analysis of the impact of the new law on Black businesses and community-based institutions. At the signing ceremony, President Trump indicated the law would extend “vital relief to thousands of African American and Hispanic American small-business owners and their employees.”

A day before the U.S. House passed the most recent COVID-19 stimulus, the Joint Center hosted a video conference on education and workforce priorities for Black communities in the recent COVID-19 stimulus and future stimulus legislation with Congressman Bobby Scott. Congressman Scott (D-VA) chairs the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor.

Respondents included:

  • The Education Trust President & CEO and 10th U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.
  • National Urban League Senior Vice President Clint Odom
  • National Education Association Vice President Becky Pringle
  • National Black Worker Center Project Executive Director Tanya Wallace-Gobern

According to this morning’s The Hill, this week “Democratic lawmakers are pushing forward with the next coronavirus-related package in order to have a bill ready to bring up for consideration when lawmakers are tentatively expected to return on May 4. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has not signed onto this timeline, having indicated that he has no plans to negotiate a bill until lawmakers return to Washington.” According to this morning’s Politico, in the U.S. House “[r]ank-and-file members are keeping the pressure on Democratic leaders to enable some kind of remote voting plan,” but many House Republicans believe business needs to occur in Washington. See more on the legislative landscape here.

Many leading Black organizations pressed for funding for Black communities in future rounds of COVID-19 stimulus legislation. The Black Economic Alliance recommended assistance that would help Black businesses, workers, HBCUs, and cultural institutions. Amid news that large restaurant chains received stimulus money intended for small businesses, the National Urban League urged Congress to ensure minority-owned, rural, remote, and unbanked small businesses are given priority in future stimulus packages. Color of Change spearheaded a petition requesting that Congress cut out banks as the intermediaries in distributing paycheck protection funds to small businesses.

U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) detailed his priorities as chair of a new House committee that will police the use of federal coronavirus stimulus funds and shape spending priorities. Last Thursday, the U.S. House formally created the committee. Chairman Clyburn (D-SC) indicates that the committee could investigate how large companies exhausted federal funds intended for small businesses, study whether states are properly using federal money devoted to election administration, push for the expansion of broadband capacity in underserved areas, improve equity in testing and health care, and advise on steps to address racial disparities in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Chairman Clyburn’s leadership is particularly important recognizing that four of the five members of another COVID-19 oversight body—the Congressional Oversight Commission—have already been selected by Republican and Democratic House and Senate leaders, and none of them are Black or Latino.

Making an Impact:
Interim Stimulus Requires Racial Data

The new stimulus law also responds to proposals in the Joint Center’s Washington Post oped and those advocated by our partner organizations like the NAACP, the Lawyers’ Committee, and the African American Mayors Association. The new stimulus law requires that the Secretary of Health and Human Services provide a monthly report on the number and rates of cases, hospitalizations and deaths as a result of COVID-19 disaggregated by race and other demographic information.

While the law is a step in the right direction, it only requires that federal officials report data “to the extent such information is available,” and does not require that states and localities disclose racial and other demographic data on COVID-19 deaths. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation illustrates why this is a problem—African Americans accounted for 34% of confirmed COVID-19 cases with known race/ethnicity initially released by the federal government on April 17, but race and ethnicity is missing or unspecified for almost two-thirds (65%) of the cases reported to the federal government. See more on the lack of data in Politico.

Reopening Southern States

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp allowed for the reopening of non-essential businesses like gyms, hair and nail salons, barbers, bowling alleys, and tattoo parlors last Friday, and restaurants and movie theaters today. Many Black leaders viewed the reopening of Georgia as an attack by Kemp on African Americans, who make up 32% of Georgia’s population but 54% of its COVID-19 deaths.

In response to the early opening of several Southern states—where 55% of African Americans live—Black Voters Matter held a virtual news conference. The group demanded that Southern governors reinstate shelter-in-place orders, create detailed safety plans with sufficient personal protective equipment before reopening, provide real-time data disaggregated by race, increased testing and treatment, expansion of Medicaid, and enhanced unemployment support. The Joint Center participated in the news conferenceSee this New York Times map (pictured above) for which states are reopening.

Economic Studies & COVID-19

The Department of Labor reports 4.4 million unemployment claims were filed last week—a decrease of 810,000 claims since the previous week—but still much higher than the pre-COVID single-week high of 695,000 in 1982. In the last five weeks, more than 26 million people have filed claims.

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) maintains that people of color and women will be hardest hit with a loss of jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic partially because these workers tend to have less authority and shorter tenure. Pew also shows that Black and Latino workers are in greater danger of losing their jobs because of over-representation in high-risk jobs.

Pew survey data also shows that of Black adults, 44% “say they or someone in their household has experienced job or wage loss because of the coronavirus outbreak,” only 27% say they have rainy day funds, and 63% say they will use stimulus money to pay bills or cover other essential needs.

The Washington Post states that nearly one-third of all Black families would end up below the poverty line if the unemployment rate hits 30 percent as previously predicted by the Federal Reserve.

A recent JP Morgan Chase Institute report shows that after involuntary job loss, Black families are spending less than white families, partially because of gaps in assets.

Political Studies & COVID-19

The NAACP and the Center for American Progress issued a joint article urging states to maintain in-person voting options during the COVID-19 pandemic, citing data suggesting that Black Americans are disproportionately disadvantaged by vote-by-mail. The article pointed out that across all U.S. census racial and ethnic classifications, Black Americans are least likely to use vote-by-mail options. Only 11 percent of Black voters used vote-by-mail in the 2018 midterm election (compared to 23.5 percent of white voters), according to the Center for American Progress.

A complaint filed by civil rights organizations including Dream Defenders, New Florida Majority, Organize Florida, Advancement Project National Office, Demos and LatinoJustice PRLDEF demands emergency accommodations to Florida’s election procedures ahead of the state’s August election.

For more on ensuring accessible vote-by-mail and safe in-person voting options for Black communities, watch the Joint Center’s briefing on the topic featuring Fair Fight Founder Stacey Abrams, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Black Voters Matter Fund Co-Founder LaTosha Brown, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law President Kristen Clarke, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights President Vanita Gupta, NAACP LDF President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill, and Joint Center President Spencer Overton.

Responding to high numbers of deaths in Michigan by Black people (40 percent of deaths compared to 13.6 percent of the population),Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order to create the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities.

Spearheaded by Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA), the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress issued a report showing why and how the COVID-19 crisis is hitting Black communities so hard.

Last Friday, the White House held an African American Stakeholders call on the Paycheck Protection Program and COVID-19 Relief Efforts.

Organizing and Town Halls

The Advancement Project National Office, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU), and the Civil Rights Corps (CRC) were granted a temporary restraining order requiring the Oakland County (MI) Jail to follow the CDC’s guidelines to protect the health of people locked inside and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

NAATPN, Inc., in collaboration with the NAACP and the Council on Black Health, have drafted a letter signed by more than 25 Black-led organizations requesting a coordinated strategy by government agencies, corporations, and philanthropic organizations to eliminate health disparities.

BET partnered with the NAACP and United Way Worldwide to create “Saving Our Selves COVID-19 Relief Effort” to provide financial, education, and community support directly to Black people impacted by COVID-19 (Black Enterprise). Prior to the televised special last week, the Black Economic Alliance and several members of the black business community had already pledged financial support toward a $10 million goal.

The National Urban League Washington Bureau’s most recent “Insider” is rich with COVID-19 info, including data on racial disparities in COVID-19 cases and deaths, policy and Hill happenings, and more.

Upcoming events include “Building Community Wealth After COVID” (New America, Apr. 28); “Understanding the Economic Outcomes of COVID-19 & the Stimulus Package for Black America” (CBCF, Apr. 30);  Combatting COVID-19 Town Hall (Rainbow Push Coalition, Apr. 30); “The COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting racial inequities. Now is the time to fix them.” (Maryland Center on Economic Policy, Apr. 30), and “Black Communities and COVID-20” (Black Communities a Conference for Collaboration, May 1).

Last week, events were held by The Urban Institute, NCNW – Charles L Franklin Associates, Third Way, and BET.