Community-led groups gathered to highlight the need for health care for Black immigrants and asked that the state pass Coverage for All. The rally was held in front of the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. building in Harlem on Friday, Feb. 4.

Activists from the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) and the African Services Committee (ASC) chanted high and loud about forgotten immigrant essential workers that are still uninsured and suffering without proper access to health care.

Gbenga Awonusi, program manager for DSI International, said that many resorted to self medication during the pandemic because they were afraid to go to hospitals. He said they had a palpable fear of deportation since they were undocumented, despite experiencing syptoms or getting reassurances that their status wouldn’t matter for care. “One has chest pain but was afraid to go to the hospital until he almost died and was rushed to the hospital by a good samaritan,” said Awonusi.

Amanda Lugg, interim co-executive director of ASC, said that the time to expand health care coverage for more than 150,000 immigrants, refugees, and asylees who are currently ineligible is now, especially because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lugg said it’s about choice and giving communities the option to buy proper insurance.

“We’re here today to demand that Governor Hochul include in her budget, a state-funded essential plan for all New Yorkers up to 200% of the federal poverty level, who are currently excluded from purchasing insurance due to their immigration status,” said Lugg. “We’re not asking for free health care.”

In 2019, former Mayor Bill de Blasio launched a plan to cover 600,000 people without insurance, including undocumented immigrants, through the city’s public health insurance option, MetroPlus, and NYC Health + Hospitals. At the moment in New York City, healthcare options such as Child Health Plus, Medicaid, and family planning programs are available for those eligible, no matter one’s immigration or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status.

Coverage for All is legislation that would create a state-funded health coverage option for uninsured New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status.

“You heard and saw that during the pandemic our immigrant communities, in particular our Black and Latinx communities, died at higher rates than our white counterparts. In part, due to gaps in health insurance coverage,” said Seongeun Chun, director of Health Policy at NYIC. “This is an avoidable tragedy, and one that underscores the racial inequities that continue to plague our healthcare system today.”

Both versions of the bill, A880A and S1572A, have moved out of each legislative houses’ Health committees. The Assembly bill will move to the Ways & Means Committee, while the Senate version is heading to Finance. NYIC estimates the cost of the bill to be at about $345 million in order to cover tens of thousands of uninsured New Yorkers.

“Governor Hochul is committed to supporting New York’s immigrant communities and will review the legislation if it passes both houses,” said Avi Small, spokesperson for the governor’s office.

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting:

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1 Comment

  1. Oh SOD OFF!!!! No one who is here ILLEGALLY should be allowed to leach off the taxpayers! GO HOME!! You are not wanted and you are CRIMINALS — ID fraud, perjury on forms, etc

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