April 30, 2020

Harris Announces Legislation to Establish Task Force to Combat Racial and Ethnic Disparities in COVID-19

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Thursday announced the COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force Act, legislation to bring together health care and other policy experts, community-based organizations, and federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial leaders to confront the racial and ethnic disparities of the coronavirus pandemic head on. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the urgent need to address long-standing inequities in our health care system. Representative Robin Kelly (D-IL-02), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust, will introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

“People of color are being infected and dying from coronavirus at astounding rates,” said Sen. Harris. “This is in part due to persistent lack of access to health care, bias in our health care system, systematic barriers to equal pay and housing, and environmental injustice. It is critical that the federal government proactively work to right historical wrongs that have led to racial inequities for generations. The COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force Act is a necessary step to fully understand the impact of this virus in the hardest hit communities, and make targeted investments that correspond with their unique needs.”

“We know that COVID-19 is already taking an oversized toll on communities of color,” said Rep. Kelly. “It’s critical that we examine these disparities at the highest possible levels of our government and develop solutions to address, reduce and end them. Fundamentally, we need this analysis to give us hard, in-your-face proof of what we’ve known for generations to drive policy change.”

Along with Harris and Kelly, this legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Doug Jones (D-AL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Gary Peters (D-MI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Richard Blumnethal (D-CT). 

The bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish an interagency task force of policy experts, community leaders, and government officials to make data-driven recommendations to federal agencies about directing crucial resources—like testing kits, testing supplies, and personal protective equipment (PPE)—to communities with racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death rates. The task force’s work would guide a more equitable government response to the COVID-19 pandemic and future public health crises.

The COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force Act is endorsed by the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations, Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, California Rural Indian Health Board, Center for American Progress, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Color of Change, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, National Indian Health Board, National Hispanic Medical Association, National Medical Association, National Urban League, Third Way, UnidosUS, American Federation of Teachers and the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network.

“Our country has long faced racial and ethnic disparities in virtually every facet of American life. COVID-19 has not only shed a light on these disparities but exacerbated them.  Senator Harris's legislation will not only address the current inequities we see in the response to COVID-19, but it will begin to address the structural issues causing these disparities that have persisted for generations,” said Danyelle Solomon, vice president of Race and Ethnicity Policy at the Center for American Progress.

“The novel coronavirus pandemic has sickened and killed Black and Latino people at disparate rates, and equitable support is not reaching the nation’s hardest hit regions,” said Marc Morial, president and CEO, National Urban League. “We need to convene health care and policy experts with local leaders in order to allocate the necessary resources to meet everyone’s needs --  especially in communities that have historically suffered from unfair and insufficient response from the government during times of crisis. The National Urban League is proud to support this legislation that will deliver much-needed federal support to our communities during these challenging times.”

“A federal task-force on racial disparities in the COVID-19 pandemic is essential for Black and Brown communities that are dying at alarming rates across the country. This pandemic makes it more clear than ever before that inequality in communities of color threatens stability for communities of every color nationwide. Identifying ways to specifically support and flatten the curve in our communities will serves as a protection for the entire country,” said Rashad Robinson, president, Color Of Change, the largest online racial justice organization in the country.

“I applaud Senator Harris and her colleagues for this proposal. Without comprehensive data on health outcomes and racial disparities, we are flying blind in our response to the pandemic. Early data from the CDC already shows that, among those with ethnicity specified, Latinos account for a quarter of overall confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and a shocking 40% of all cases among those under the age of 18,” said Janet Murguía, President and CEO of UnidosUS. “That’s why the task force proposed in this bill is so critical to protecting public health and stopping the spread of the virus. It will ensure that we don’t turn a blind eye to the racial disparities revealed by the more robust data collection mandated by Congress and compel the federal government to target and surge resources to hot spots and communities at risk and save precious lives.”

The COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force would:

  • Provide weekly resource allocation recommendations to FEMA and Congress including:
    • Data on patient outcomes including hospitalizations, ventilation, and mortality disaggregated by race and ethnicity.
    • Identification of communities that have high levels of racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and death rates.
    • Recommendations to FEMA about how best to allocate critical COVID-19 resources like PPE, ventilators, testing kits, testing supplies, vaccinations (when available), staffing, and funding to these communities.
    • Best practices when communities are able to effectively reduce racial and ethnic disparities.
  • Provide oversight and recommendations to federal agencies about how to disburse COVID-19 relief funds—for instance, the Education Stabilization Fund and the Paycheck Protection Program created under the CARES Act—to address racial and ethnic disparities with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Report to Congress on:
    • Structural inequalities preceding the COVID-19 pandemic and how they contributed to racial and ethnic disparities in infection, hospitalization, and death rates.
    • The initial federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on racial and ethnic disparities in infection, hospitalization, and death rates.
    • Recommendations to combat racial and ethnic disparities in future infectious disease response.
  • At the end of the COVID-19 public health crisis, establish a permanent Infectious Disease Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force to continue to identify and address racial and ethnic disparities in our health care system and improve future infectious disease response.

Bill text can be found here.

A one-pager on the bill can be found here.

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