One terrible truth, lessons from COVID

ASSEMBLYMAN CHARLES BARRON 60TH and ASSEMBLYMAN ANDREW HEVESI 28TH AD | 11/5/2020, midnight
One terrible truth that we have learned from the pandemic is that communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by ...
COVID-19/Coronavirus/face mask Unsplash

One terrible truth that we have learned from the pandemic is that communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Due to vast structural inequities in our society, people of color are more likely to live in multigenerational housing, use public transit, and work in high-contact occupations, all of which have resulted in higher death rates for Black and Brown people in New York.

We now know that Black and Hispanic children experienced parental/caregiver deaths from COVID-19 at twice the rate of Asian and white children. We know that Black and Hispanic New Yorkers experienced household food scarcity during COVID at three to four times the rate of white New Yorkers. We now know that COVID-19-related job losses are heavily concentrated among low-wage workers, hitting persons of color the hardest.

As we acknowledge that truth, attempt to learn from it, and look to change our use of resources and policies that have led to greater impact and more death for these communities, we are now seeing the same old decision making from our state government that strips resources from communities of color.

Governor Cuomo is actively withholding billions of dollars in assistance from Black and Brown communities in the aftermath of the pandemic. This is not money the state is waiting for from the federal government, this is cash New York State has on hand, right now.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed by Congress in March and established the Corona Virus Relief Fund (CRF) designed to assist states and local governments in funding COVID-19 related expenses. New York State now has $2.3 billion left in cash in the CRF.

In early September, 185 elected officials and organizations urged the Cuomo administration to allocate these resources because “these services are in danger of collapse without urgently needed assistance,” and they “employ and serve large numbers of New Yorkers from communities of color.” The Cuomo administration has refused.

The withholding of funds to human services nonprofits, whose workforce is primarily comprised of women of color, is not new to the Cuomo administration. The governor has rejected calls to increase funds for these services in budget negotiations for years, even though New York State contracts for these services continue to pay poverty wages to the nonprofit workforce, many of whom are forced to rely on public assistance to survive.

Let us not forget that the workforce of the nonprofit sector are the same heroes that we deemed essential during the worst of the pandemic, who risked their lives and safety to take care of our most vulnerable neighbors.

The question now is how can Governor Cuomo continue the pattern of withholding money from the nonprofit sector and its workforce comprised primarily of women of color, knowing what we know now?

In addition to this lack of respect for the human services sector workforce, Black and Brown communities are experiencing the daily deterioration of services many rely on to survive. Thirty-five percent of all food pantries, soup kitchens and mobile pantries have closed since the start of the pandemic; 724 childcare providers have closed permanently between April and October and an average of 26 providers continue to close every week. There is further deterioration of services for people with developmental disabilities, behavioral health and mental health services, foster care, preventative services and senior services.

Losing these services, as we are at alarming rates, also has the dual impact of hurting the clients who rely on them and costing taxpayers huge amounts in future years for more expensive services such as emergency room visits, longer hospitalizations, increased need for law enforcement, ambulances and housing the newly homeless in expensive shelters.

Instead of learning a lesson from COVID-19 and working to assist the communities that were hit the hardest, New York State continues its pattern of withholding money from communities of color. It’s just plain wrong.