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Lawmakers of color urge Democratic leadership to protect underserved communities in coronavirus talks

August 11, 2020
In The News

A group of House members on Monday called on House Democratic leadership to take a hard stance and protect communities of color when and if coronavirus legislation negotiations resume with the White House and Senate GOP leadership.

"As members of the Democratic Party, we have a moral responsibility to defend the voiceless in America. Our legislative inaction is literally the difference between life and death for communities of color," wrote Democratic Reps. Tony Cárdenas (Calif.), Judy Chu (Calif.), Deb Haaland (N.M.), Bobby Rush (Ill.) and Joaquin Castro (Texas).

"Especially for immigrants, blue-collar workers, and low-income families. Therefore, I urge Congressional Leadership to prioritize the needs of communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic – specifically Latino, Black, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans – in the next relief package," added the members in a letter to House Democratic leaders Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.).

The letter comes after negotiations collapse on a new coronavirus relief package between Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Following last week's announcement that talks had reached a stalemate, President Trump signed four executive orders that Democrats panned as insufficient and unconstitutional.

Trump left the door open to further negotiations, but advocates for marginalized communities of color are concerned the White House's strategy could weaken Democratic resolve if negotiators return to the table.

The lawmakers noted in their letter that negotiations for the CARES Act, the original coronavirus relief bill signed in late March, failed to account for the disproportionate effects of the pandemic on minority communities.

"Under your leadership, we passed the historic $2 trillion CARES Act. While this action benefited many Americans, more must be done to protect and support communities of color," wrote the legislators in the draft letter reviewed by The Hill.

The CARES Act excluded millions of immigrants and their families — who were more often than not people of color — from the bill's benefits.

A provision in the CARES Act doled out $1,200 stimulus checks to many taxpayers and increased unemployment insurance by $600, while making COVID-19 testing and treatment available to people eligible for federal Medicaid.

But several categories of immigrants are only eligible for emergency Medicaid, leaving a gap of at least 10 million people who are not eligible for testing and treatment.

That legislation also excluded some categories of tax paying immigrants from financial benefits, and even made American citizens married to foreign nationals without a Social Security number ineligible for federal financial assistance.

The lawmakers also noted that the financial relief meant to keep companies afloat was not meted out equally to minority-owned businesses.

"Big corporations like Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Shake Shack received $20 million and $10 million loans respectively. They were part of the 0.25 percent of the 1.66 million applicants that received more than $5 million while thousands of other applicants – mostly people of color – were being denied much smaller loans of under $200,000," wrote the lawmakers.

"According to a study released in May by the Center for Responsible Lending, 95% of Black-owned businesses, 91% of Latino and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander-owned businesses, and 75% of Asian-owned businesses had virtually no chance of receiving a PPP loan because of a lack of credit and access to banks," they added.

The lawmakers also cited higher death rates among people of color — Black and Hispanic death rates outpace white death rates throughout the country, and Pacific Islanders in Los Angeles have the highest COVID-19 death rate of any demographic group.

The causes of the higher death rates are varied, ranging from disproportionate representation in high-risk, essential jobs to a higher rate of preexisting comorbidities, but most causes are intertwined with higher poverty rates.

"Democrats must stand strong against [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell [R-K.y.] and the Trump Administration and pass legislation that is of the people, by the people and FOR THE PEOPLE. Not for banks. Not for millionaires. Not for well-connected corporate executives," wrote the lawmakers.

"And while I understand that compromise is part of the negotiating process, surrender is not. We cannot surrender the needs of working families for the sake of moving the process forward," they added.