Joint Center News: March 2020

This is a difficult moment for the world and the United States, and for Black communities in particular. The Joint Center is working closely with several other Black organizations to ensure that the challenges facing Black communities are considered and adequately addressed in COVID-19 policy decisions (stay updated on our COVID-19 policy page here).

In March, the Joint Center convened leading Black organizations for an online discussion with CBC Chair Karen Bass (D-CA) on COVID-19 policy and Black communities. We also took important steps on the future of work, congressional staff diversity, and preventing voter suppression on social media. Details below.

COVID-19 & Black Communities

Last Friday, Congress passed and the President signed the third stimulus bill on COVID-19 (see The Raben Group’s helpful summary of the three bills here).

Last Thursday, the Joint Center convened several leading organizations that serve Black communities for an online policy discussion with CBC Chair Karen Bass (D-CA) on the implications of congressional responses to COVID-19 on Black communities. We discussed accomplishments and shortcomings of the stimulus bills, including on housing and food insecurity, modifications to TANF and SNAP, inequalities in education and healthcare stemming from inadequate broadband, fairness in COVID-19 testing and healthcare, protecting imprisoned people, support for Black businesses and non-profits that serve Black communities (including Black churches), voting and census access, preventing governments from waiving affirmative action requirements in government contracting, and more. Participants included representatives from the Advancement Project, A Philanthropic Partnership for Black Communities (ABFE), the African American Mayors Association, the Black Economic Alliance, the Black Futures Lab, Black Voters Matter, the Boule, Color of Change, the Leadership Conference, NAACP, NAACP LDF, National Action Network, the National League of Cities, the National Organization of Black County Officials, the National Urban League, Repairers of the Breach, the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative, Urban Institute, U.S. Black Chambers, and others. More details here.

The Joint Center signed an emergency letter calling for the FCC to support emergency increases in the Lifeline benefit in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lifeline program helps low-income consumers obtain access to telephone and internet services, which is incredibly critical with the emergence of social distancing and remote work.

Moving forward, the Joint Center will host virtual discussions with key policymakers on COVID-19 policy and Black communities. Stay tuned for details on our forthcoming discussion with FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks on how the federal government must expand internet access to more Americans to fight COVID-19 (see his New York Times commentary on the topic here).

Many have chimed in on benefits and shortcomings of the federal stimulus legislation, including the Center on Budget and Policy Prioritiesthe Leadership ConferenceNELPthe NAACPNAACP LDFthe National Urban League, and the Urban Institute.

The African American Mayors Association has COVID-19 resources for local leaders.

CAP argues that COVID-19 compounds inequality because people of color disproportionately reside in densly populated areas at increased risk to the virus, have higher rates of serious chronic health conditions, and face barriers to health care.

Color of Change will convene a virtual town hall on the Black Response to COVID-19 on April 1.

The NAACP has various COVID-19 resources, including an analysis of equity implications generally and policy briefs on the equity implications on education and voter access specifically.

Third Way will also host a video conference on “The Impact of COVID on the Black Community” on April 1 featuring Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Bronx Assembly Member Michael Blake, and Third Way Senior Fellow Akunna Cook.

The U.S. Black Chambers in conjunction with the Small Business Roundtable produced a policy and legislative resource guide for small business owners.

Several Joint Center supporters have responded to COVID-19, including the Annie E. Casey FoundationComcast NBC UniversalGoogleDemocracy FundHewlett FoundationLumina FoundationMarguerite Casey Foundation, and Verizon.

Economic Studies

The Joint Center formally released An Introduction to the Black Rural South. The report reviews the unique history and challenges currently faced in the 156 rural U.S. counties with populations that are at least 35 percent Black. The report was previously released as a working paper in December 2019.

Joint Center President Spencer Overton wrote an op-ed explaining why presidential candidates should focus on the unique needs of the Black Rural South for Inside Sources.

The Nation also covered our research in an article explaining why the Black Rural South should receive targeted funding.

Joint Center Vice President Jessica Fulton joined a panel discussion, Building The Foundation for Change in Urban America, at the Internet Essentials Impact Summit hosted by Comcast. The panel discussed the link between a lack of resources in underserved communities and the potential for innovation and prosperity. Other panelists included Council for Opportunity in Education Vice President for Public Policy and Communications Kimberly Jones, Esq. and University of Pennsylvania Senior Fellow Dr. Heather KlusaritzNational Center for Resource Development Co-Founder and President Joseph Kapp moderated the conversation.

Jessica also participated in a panel discussion, A New Vision for 2020: Top Economic Issues, at the 2020 Sadie T.M. Alexander Conference for Economics & Related Fields. Other panelists included Drake Road Strategies Principal Akunna CookOmidyar Network Principal Joelle Gamble, and Economic Policy Institute Director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy Dr. Valerie R. Wilson.

Jessica also helped lead a roundtable discussion at the 2020 Aspen Leadership Forum on Retirement Savings. The invite-only convening brought together key stakeholders from the retirement industry, government, consumer advocacy, and academia to discuss challenges and solutions for retirement security. During the conversation, Jessica argued that portable retirement benefits should be available and accessible to all workers, including those who do not traditionally have access to retirement benefits.

Political Studies

The Joint Center issued a press release commending Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for appointing Kemba Hendrix to serve as the executive director of the U.S. House Office of Diversity & Inclusion. The Joint Center’s past research and advocacy, along with that of our partners, led to the creation of the office and the position.

Spencer submitted a final draft of his article, State Power to Regulate Social Media Companies to Prevent Voter Suppression, which will be published in the University of California, Davis Law Review. The article explains that “while African Americans made up just 12.7% of the United States population, Black audiences accounted for over 38% of U.S.-focused ads purchased by the Russian Internet Research Agency and almost half of the user clicks.” In the article, Spencer argues that Section 230 of the Federal Communications Act of 1934 does not “limit the power of the States to hold social media companies legally responsible for using data collection and algorithms to target protected classes of voters with suppressive ads.” A version of the final article will be posted on SSRN in the near future.

Joint Center Senior Fellow of Diversity & Inclusion Dr. LaShonda Brenson attended the annual meeting of the National Conference of Black Political Scientists in Atlanta.

The 2020 Census questionnaire is available online, by phone, or by mail. Earlier this year, the Joint Center joined a network of government, nonprofit, corporate, and community organizations as a 2020 census partner to help ensure a complete and accurate count. Please complete this important questionnaire.


On his weekly podcast, WashingTECH Host Joe Miller spoke with Silicon Valley-based startup advisor and attorney Bärí A. Williams on a new 401(k) for small businesses, Boston University Social Work Professor Rob Eschmann on how the internet is unmasking racism, Rutgers University Communications Professor Jeff Lane on criminal justice and tech, and TechFreedom Director of Civil Liberties Ashkhen Kazaryan on tech policy and COVID-19. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and on WashingTECH’s website. Listen here.

Urban Institute is releasing a series of podcast episodes on how the coronavirus pandemic will affect vulnerable communities. Listen here.