Rep. Joe Cunningham on Monday joined a bipartisan group of House colleagues to call on Congressional leadership to prioritize programs and services for underserved communities and provide targeted resources to address health disparities in any future coronavirus response legislation.
“The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has touched every pocket of our country and communities of color are being harmed disproportionately by this crisis,” the lawmakers wrote. “According to the COVID Racial Data Tracker, Black Americans are dying at nearly two times their national population share. In five of the six counties with the highest death rates from the virus, Black Americans are the largest racial group.”
In South Carolina, Black Americans comprise 27% of the state’s population, but make up 42% of confirmed cases and 56% of deaths.
The text of the letter is copied below:
Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, and Minority Leader McCarthy:
We write to respectfully request that provisions that provide critical healthcare services to support underserved communities be prioritized as you negotiate coronavirus response legislation and included in future stimulus packages.
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has touched every pocket of our country and communities of color are being harmed disproportionately by this crisis. According to the COVID Racial Data Tracker, Black Americans are dying at nearly two times their national population share. In five of the six counties with the highest death rates from the virus, Black Americans are the largest racial group. In Arizona, Native American death and case rates are five times their percentage of the state population. In Alaska, the Asian American case rate is two times their population. In the District, Maryland, and Virginia, Latinos are 10 percent of the population, yet make up a third of the COVID-19 cases in the region.
These disparities are linked to social determinants of health, including but not limited to, employment, housing, health insurance and medical care, neighborhood pollution, and food deserts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Latino Americans are three times more likely to be uninsured than their Caucasian counterparts, and African Americans are two times more likely to be uninsured. While their rates of behavioral health disorders may not significantly differ from the general population, Blacks and Latinos have substantially lower access to substance use treatment and mental health services. Ethnic minorities are also more likely to live in areas that are densely populated and further from grocery stores and medical facilities. Furthermore, people of color have higher rates of chronic conditions, and according to the CDC, 90% of patients severely hospitalized with COVID-19 had at least one underlying medical condition.
Our response to this pandemic will be insufficient if we do not tackle these disparities directly and prioritize policies in an equitable and just way.
As you may know, a key component to detecting and containing outbreaks is access to testing. With evidence mounting that Black American and Latino American communities are harder hit by this tragic disease, community leaders are voicing concerns about problematic testing disparities. Recent reporting has illuminated these disparities in access to public testing sites in Massachusetts, Texas, New York City, and Chicago. However, it is difficult to determine testing disparities on a national scale because data remains scarce and public health departments are drastically underfunded. If we are not testing our most vulnerable, we will miss pockets of infection, limit the success of mitigation efforts, and continue to see higher case counts and deaths across the country. It is also critical that vulnerable communities have access to healthcare and social support services, including treatment, if they test positive. Therefore, we request that you prioritize the inclusion of the following provisions during your negotiations that will help to address these ongoing challenges:
- $75 billion for testing, contact tracing, and other activities necessary to effectively monitor and suppress COVID-19.
- $2.1 billion for federal, state, and local public health agencies to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19.
- $7.6 billion in emergency funding for Health Centers, which have been shown to reduce health disparities and improve the health of vulnerable populations, to expand the capacity to provide testing, triage, and care for COVID-19 and other health care services across the country. Additionally, Health Centers need stability and should no longer be faced with an uncertain future. It is imperative we provide at least a five-year extension at a minimum of $69.7 billion so they can expand their presence and provide more services to more patients.
- $2.1 billion for the Indian Health Service (IHS) to address health needs related to COVID-19 for Native Americans.
- $38.5 billion for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to increase mental health support and substance abuse treatment during COVID-19, and to offer increased outreach.
While we are grateful for previous funding for testing, public health agencies, Health Centers, IHS, and SAMHSA, there is still an abundance of unmet need and closing these gaps are critical to suppressing this crisis in our communities. We ask that funding for these streams in future packages is no less than the amounts above and are targeted to address health disparities and support our most at-risk communities. Thousands of lives are depending on Congressional action. Thank you for your continued leadership and commitment to health equity during this global pandemic and beyond.