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Bipartisan group demands House prioritize communities of color in coronavirus relief bill

Bipartisan group demands House prioritize communities of color in coronavirus relief bill
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Friday called on congressional leaders to prioritize communities of color in funding future coronavirus mitigation efforts.

In a letter to House and Senate Leadership, Reps. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), Joe KennedyJoseph (Joe) Patrick KennedyFive centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote LIVE COVERAGE: House votes to name Speaker Government spending bill to include bipartisan energy provisions MORE III (D-Mass.), John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoLawmakers line up behind potential cyber breach notification legislation Lawmakers blame SolarWinds hack on 'collective failure' to prioritize cybersecurity Taylor Swift celebrates House passage of Equality Act MORE (R-N.Y.) and Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickTaylor Swift celebrates House passage of Equality Act Here are the three GOP lawmakers who voted for the Equality Act House passes sweeping protections for LGBTQ people MORE (R-Pa.), the leads on the letter to be sent Monday, asked for increased funding for a series of programs and initiatives that have been shown to improve outcomes for underserved communities.

“Communities of color are often left out of the conversation during times of national emergencies," said Cárdenas.

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"Black and brown people are being hurt the most by the coronavirus pandemic. I am proud that members on both sides of the aisle are putting politics aside to support our most vulnerable and speak out on behalf of those who are often left behind,” he added.

As of Friday, 78 lawmakers have signed the letter, according to the lawmakers organizing it.

In the letter, the bipartisan group acknowledges that communities of color have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.

"According to the COVID Racial Data Tracker, Black Americans are dying at nearly two times their national population share. In five of the six counties with the highest death rates from the virus, Black Americans are the largest racial group," wrote the members in the letter reviewed by The Hill.

"In Arizona, Native American death and case rates are five times their percentage of the state population. In Alaska, the Asian American case rate is two times their population. In the District, Maryland, and Virginia, Latinos are 10 percent of the population, yet make up a third of the COVID-19 cases in the region," they added.

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Democratic leaders of the House's minority caucuses have successfully pushed their party leadership to support more assistance to these hardest-hit communities, but bipartisan collaboration has essentially died down since the initial volley of economic and health care stimulus bills were passed and signed into law by President TrumpDonald TrumpSacha Baron Cohen calls out 'danger of lies, hate and conspiracies' in Golden Globes speech Sorkin uses Abbie Hoffman quote to condemn Capitol violence: Democracy is 'something you do' Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress MORE.

In the letter, the bipartisan group warns that the government's response to the coronavirus crisis could ultimately fail if racial and ethnic disparities are not tackled.

"Our response to this pandemic will be insufficient if we do not tackle these disparities directly and prioritize policies in an equitable and just way," wrote the members.

Among the group's requests are $75 billion for testing and contact tracing, in order to spot coronavirus flash points in underserved communities; $7.6 billion in emergency funding for health centers, and $69.7 billion over the next five year years; $38.5 billion for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA); $2.1 billion for the Indian Health Service (IHS); and $2.1 billion in additional coronavirus funding for local, state and federal health services.

"While we are grateful for previous funding for testing, public health agencies, Health Centers, IHS, and [SAMHSA], there is still an abundance of unmet need and closing these gaps are critical to suppressing this crisis in our communities," wrote the members.