September 14, 2020

Cárdenas, Coleman Introduce Legislation to Address COVID-19 Racial Disparities

WASHINGTON, DC – Last week, Representatives Tony Cárdenas (CA-29) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) introduced the COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color. This legislation would require targeted testing, contract tracing, public awareness campaigns, and outreach efforts specifically directed at racial and ethnic minority communities and other populations that have been made vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately hurt Brown, Black, Indigenous, and Asian and Pacific Islander communities,” said Congressman Cárdenas. “People of color are dying from the coronavirus at higher rates because often these communities of color, due to employment and other factors, are often the most likely to be exposed to the virus. Whether working outdoors in agriculture, indoors in meatpacking plants, or in a range of in-person service-focused industries. In addition, lack of access to health care and other necessary services in these communities coupled with a lack of action by this administration has compounded the pandemic’s devastating impact.”

“We know the coronavirus pandemic has not affected every community equally,” said Congresswoman Coleman. “Poor and minority communities, as well as rural communities with less access to medical services, have been especially hard hit. If we are to be successful in defeating the virus our response must include extra resources to attack the pandemic where it’s hurt the most. This bill recognizes this reality; I strongly support it and am grateful to my colleagues Congressman Cardenas and Senator Menendez for helping to push this issue.”

According to the COVID Racial Data Tracker, the pandemic has a disproportionate impact on communities of color. Nationwide, African Americans are dying from COVID-19 at approximately 2.5 times the rate of white people. American Indian, Alaska Native, Hispanic, and Asian American communities are also facing disproportionate rates of COVID-19.

According to a UC Berkeley study, nearly 7 in 10 Latino and Black voters in Los Angeles County, for example, said that the virus posed a “major threat” to their personal or family health, according to the poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies. About 6 in 10 Asian American voters said the virus was a major threat. By comparison, fewer than half of white voters reported the same level of concern.

In New Jersey, 21.3 percent of COVID-19 deaths involve African Americans, although they make up just 14 percent of the state’s population. Hispanics account for 25.7 percent of COVID-19 despite making up 20.6 percent of the state’s population.

The COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act would:

  • Require the Trump Administration to develop an action plan to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 among racial and ethnic minority, rural, and other vulnerable populations.
  • Require states to revise testing and contact tracing plans to address racial and ethnic minority, rural, and other vulnerable populations experiencing health disparities related to COVID-19.
  • Authorize the development of targeted public awareness campaigns about COVID-19 symptoms, testing, and treatment directed at racial and ethnic minority, rural, and other socially vulnerable populations disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
  • Ensure that federally funded contact-tracing efforts are tailored to the racial and ethnic diversity of local communities.  

Earlier this summer, Congressman Cárdenas led a letter to House Leadership urging them to prioritize people of color in Heroes Act Negotiations. In July, Cárdenas introduced the Strengthening Behavioral Health Supports for Schools Act. This bipartisan bill would authorize annual funding of $25 million for the Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), through Fiscal Year 2025, to operate a technical assistance and training center to provide schools and school systems with mental health and substance use disorder support and services for students during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Congressman Cárdenas sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee.