By LaShonda Brenson Ph.D., Jessica Fulton, and Spencer Overton
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately harm Black communities in the United States, Congress and the Trump Administration have failed to come to an agreement on a fourth legislative package that will bring relief to millions in our nation.1 Granted, the relief package should direct significant COVID-19 testing and other health care services toward underserved communities that are at greater risk to the virus. But that’s not enough.
In addition to accounting for a disproportionately large percentage of COVID-19 infections and deaths, Black communities have borne the brunt of the pandemic’s socioeconomic harm. African Americans have suffered disproportionately high rates of unemployment, lost income, and business closures. The digital divide has prevented too many African Americans from engaging in remote learning, work, and medical services during the pandemic. Even the ability of Black communities to exercise the right to vote is threatened by a failure of government to invest adequate resources into accessible and safe voting options. Absent meaningful federal intervention, these challenges could hinder Black communities and racial equity for a generation.
Rather than willfully ignore the pandemic’s outsized effects on Black communities and further entrench systemic inequality, Congress and the Administration should agree to a stimulus plan that:
- Provides Financial Support for Black Workers by extending the $600 per week federal supplement to state unemployment insurance and the Earned Income Tax Credit, increasing SNAP benefits, providing rental assistance, and providing fiscal relief to states and localities;
- Sustains Black Businesses by extending the period for forgiveness of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and streamlining the forgiveness process, mandating data collection on loan forgiveness, providing significant funding for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs), and strengthening the Minority Business Development Agency;
- Expands Internet Access Among Black Households by providing a $50 a month emergency broadband subsidy for households in need, and allocating $4 billion for laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, routers, and modems that can be used at home by students, school staff, and library patrons; and
- Protects Our Democracy by allocating to states at least $3.6 billion for administering elections, and requiring that states provide online and same day voter registration opportunities, provide accessible vote-by-mail with due process protections, provide at least 15 days of early in-person voting, and develop plans to ensure sufficient staffing and equipment to protect the health of poll workers and in-person voters during early in-person voting and on Election Day.
1 In May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (“HEROES”) Act, which would support Black communities by providing critical funding that will benefit Black workers, students, families, businesses, and voters. U.S. Congress, House, Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (“HEROES Act”), HR 6800, 116th Cong., 2nd sess., Division I, Sec. 90016, introduced in House May 12, 2020. See also Spencer Overton, “The Impact of the HEROES Act on Black Communities,” May 18, 2020, Joint Center. In late July, Senate Republicans introduced the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (“HEALS”) Act, $1 trillion package that would extend stimulus payments to individuals, continue but lower the weekly federal supplement to state unemployment benefits, expand funding for Paycheck Protection Program loans, and prevent consumers and employees from holding businesses liable except in situations of gross negligence or willful misconduct. “Republican Comments on Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools Act (“HEALS Act”),” July 29, 2020, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. In addition to supporting the HEROES Act, Senate Democrats have released a $350 billion Economic Justice Act targeted at addressing public health, childcare, infrastructure, and job creation challenges that disproportionately affect communities of color. “Summary of the Economic Justice Act,” July 16, 2020, Senate Democrats.