House Committee Examines Sobering COVID-19 Statistics

By Laura Walling, Senior Director of Government Affairs, Goodwill Industries International

This week began with many observing service members on Memorial Day who gave the ultimate sacrifice while defending our country. A few days later, we mourned the passing of more than 100,000 lives lost in America’s battle against COVID-19. These were disproportionately people of color, older Americans and people with pre-existing medical conditions — and they were so much more than a statistic.

The House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing this week on The Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on Communities of Color. Witnesses shared staggering statistics, including:

  • As of Monday, African Americans are dying at nearly two times their national population share. In five out of the six counties with the highest death rates, African Americans are the largest racial group.
  • Pacific Islanders have the highest rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases in California, King County in Washington state, Clark County in Nevada, and the second highest in Utah, Oregon, Arkansas and Colorado.
  • Members of the Navajo Nation residing across New Mexico, Arizona and Utah have the highest per capita infection rate in the country. With nearly 4,500 cases, the infection rate of nearly 2,500 per 100,000 residents surpasses New York and has caused 147 deaths.
  • For every 100,000 Latinos, 23 have died from COVID-19. Their mortality rate is the second highest in the country alongside the Asian mortality rate. A recent study conducted across 40 states and the District of Columbia found that, collectively, Latinos represent 18.5 percent of the population, but 16.4 percent of deaths.

Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) noted in his opening statement, “COVID-19 has shown a light on our country’s centuries-old legacy of inequality.”

The impact of the virus has exacerbated divisions in accessing adequate health care, child care, transportation, broadband, digital skills, food, housing and capital among, other necessities. While unpacking the causes of these inequities, lawmakers are challenged to examine the policies that have led to more people of color working in jobs that are putting them more at risk, less likely to be insured or receive additional benefits, or not having adequate financial resources, which forces them to live in more multigenerational households.

Solutions proposed to help address these disparities included providing more funding for research, COVID-19 testing and contact tracing; expanding Medicaid eligibility; providing more funding towards the development of expanding the healthcare workforce, particularly in diverse communities; creating better infrastructure; and expanding paid leave and sick leave requirements to certain industries. Many of the structural barriers and racist policies that have led to these disparities existed long-before the pandemic, but as the country begins to recover and reopen, now is the time to examine policies that have led to these inequities and not just return to the way things were before the pandemic.