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Latino seniors suffering from COVID-19 need help now

It’s no secret Latinos of all age ranges are suffering disproportionately from the coronavirus pandemic, but as we head into winter, it’s important to remember that our abuelas and tios are particularly vulnerable to the physical and mental health impacts of COVID-19. Making sure they get immediate help should be a priority when Joe Biden becomes president.

The facts are facts: older Hispanics are more likely to die or suffer health complications from COVID-19 than white seniors. Mental health issues, worsened by the pandemic, have been on the rise for adults who are 50 and older, leading to increased rates of depression, anxiety and substance abuse for seniors, according to AARP. UnidosUS and AARP have partnered to promote information on how Latino seniors can stay healthy, safe, practice social distancing and bolster their finances during the pandemic. 

On top of the dire health impact, COVID-19 has severely crimped older Hispanics’ finances. In July, 19 percent of Latinos aged 65 and older reported having lost their jobs during the pandemic, compared to just 13 percent of the general population in that same age group.

This combination of health and financial impacts from the pandemic could be followed by a terrifying housing crisis that threatens to kick senior citizens onto the streets. Emergency relief efforts to prevent foreclosures, provide rental assistance and help people pay their utilities have run out, but are still desperately needed to allow older homeowners and renters to stay in their homes.

Unfortunately, older Hispanics sometimes can’t even find refuge from the pandemic at home, because many live in multigenerational homes or low-income housing. Some 1.6 million seniors in the United States also live in subsidized housing, increasing the risk of catching the virus in crowded apartment buildings with lots of shared spaces. Given the other factors older Latinos face—they are less likely to have health insurance or to see a doctor, for example—Hispanic seniors with low incomes are particularly at risk.

What then is to be done to repair a tattered social safety net that has failed to protect those who have lost their jobs or rely on government-funded health care?

First, it is critical that Congress enact a relief package that funds essential protections for all senior citizens, including Latinos. This package should also provide funding for research to determine where age disparities exist and take the appropriate steps to ensure an effective and inclusive recovery for all. Among them:

  • Extend health coverage and nutrition support to Hispanic senior citizens suffering from food insecurity at a rate nearly three times higher than non-Latino Whites. Through increased funding in government programs like Meals on Wheels and SNAP, millions of Hispanics can continue to put food on their table.
  • Increase the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Housing Counseling Program’s funding to $100 million annually—the funding level that is included in the HEROES Act—to ensure that all Americans, including aging Latinos, have the support needed to stay in their homes.
  • Provide immediate economic relief for Hispanic workers and their families, many of whom have been deemed essential yet have not been granted the necessary benefits to keep them and their families afloat. This includes helping the pre-Medicare population, aged 50-64, many of whom are still working as essential workers and need access to health care and prescription drugs.

Finally, we also call on the incoming Biden administration to ensure that any COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan accounts for the devastating impact the virus has had on Hispanics. An equitable distribution will require prioritizing those in the most vulnerable sub-groups, like elderly Latino populations, while guaranteeing widespread access and affordability for everyone.

This is a tough time for everyone. But it’s especially so for seniors. Family and social contact—the beating heart of Latino culture—are vital for mental and physical well-being. Financial stability and knowing they won’t lose their home are vital to building their resilience in the face of a long, cold winter. Recovery from the coronavirus pandemic must start with protecting and honoring our most vulnerable populations through robust relief efforts and programs. It’s time we give back to our Hispanic elders who have provided so much for our community and our country.

Murguía is President and CEO of UnidosUS (previously known as the National Council of La Raza), the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization.

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