In the midst of a vaccine rollout plagued by slowdowns as well as lingering suspicions from Black Americans and others about trusting the government’s response, Democrats are calling on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to direct funds from the recently passed $900 billion COVID relief bill to grassroots organizations in communities of color so they can conduct testing and other coronavirus related outreach.
This week, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), along with other Democratic lawmakers, wrote HHS Secretary Alex Azar requesting that money from the stimulus be allocated in grants to faith-based and community-based organizations that serve African Americans, Latinos, and Indigenous people—communities hardest hit by the coronavirus.
“A legacy of discrimination and abuse by the health care system has created mistrust in many communities of color, which can lead to under-utilization of needed health care,” reads the letter from lawmakers obtained by The Root. “We believe that the people who are best positioned to repair this legacy of mistrust are those who know their communities best.”
The COVID relief bill passed in December by Congress includes specific funds for high-risk and underserved populations, but HHS has yet to say how this will be distributed.
In their letter, the Democratic lawmakers pointed to the model outlined in their COVID Community Care Act legislation as one the HHS should follow. The bill was introduced by Lee and Warren last year in the House and Senate respectively and calls for the allocation of $8 billion in federal funding to organizations with “authentic ties” to communities that are hardest hit by the coronavirus and still need better access to COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. Black people are nearly three times more likely to die from the coronavirus as white people in America and have continued to experience the documented differences in health care access and treatment that existed even before the pandemic.
“Health disparities have been with us, especially in the Black community, from day one. And we’ve never had a full-blown funded strategy to address it.” Rep. Lee told The Root last month while advocating for portions of the newest stimulus funds to go to trusted people embedded in their communities.
Other signatories to the letter are Congresswoman Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Congresswoman Robin L. Kelly (D-Ill.), and Congressman Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.).