Lawmakers of color urge Democratic leadership to protect underserved communities in coronavirus talks

Lawmakers of color urge Democratic leadership to protect underserved communities in coronavirus talks
© Greg Nash

A group of House members on Monday called on House Democratic leadership to take a hard stance and protect communities of color when and if coronavirus legislation negotiations resume with the White House and Senate GOP leadership.

"As members of the Democratic Party, we have a moral responsibility to defend the voiceless in America. Our legislative inaction is literally the difference between life and death for communities of color," wrote Democratic Reps. Tony Cárdenas (Calif.), Judy ChuJudy May ChuDHS opens probe into allegations at Georgia ICE facility Hispanic caucus report takes stock of accomplishments with eye toward 2021 Lawmakers of color blast Trump administration for reportedly instructing agencies to end anti-bias training MORE (Calif.), Deb HaalandDebra HaalandHispanic caucus report takes stock of accomplishments with eye toward 2021 Rep. Robin Kelly enters race for Democratic caucus vice chair OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats push resolution to battle climate change, sluggish economy and racial injustice | Senators reach compromise on greenhouse gas amendment stalling energy bill | Trump courts Florida voters with offshore drilling moratorium MORE (N.M.), Bobby RushBobby Lee RushCongress should investigate OAS actions in Bolivia Rep. Bobby Rush introduces legislation focused on addressing racism, lack of diversity in the federal government House Democrat introduces bill to replace Confederate monuments nationwide MORE (Ill.) and Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroDisinformation, QAnon efforts targeting Latino voters ramp up ahead of presidential election Pompeo accused of stumping for Trump ahead of election Florida Democrat asks FBI to investigate anti-Semitic, racist disinformation MORE (Texas).

"Especially for immigrants, blue-collar workers, and low-income families. Therefore, I urge Congressional Leadership to prioritize the needs of communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic – specifically Latino, Black, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans – in the next relief package," added the members in a letter to House Democratic leaders Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocratic senator to party: 'A little message discipline wouldn't kill us' Overnight Health Care: New wave of COVID-19 cases builds in US | Florida to lift all coronavirus restrictions on restaurants, bars | Trump stirs questions with 0 drug coupon plan Overnight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds MORE (Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse to vote on resolution affirming peaceful transition of power On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline Vulnerable Democrats tell Pelosi COVID-19 compromise 'essential' MORE (Md.) and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.).

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The letter comes after negotiations collapse on a new coronavirus relief package between Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' 3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing Cruz blocks amended resolution honoring Ginsburg over language about her dying wish MORE (D-N.Y.), White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsWhite House chief of staff knocks FBI director over testimony on election fraud Anxious Democrats amp up pressure for vote on COVID-19 aid Pelosi hopeful COVID-19 relief talks resume 'soon' MORE and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Republicans lawmakers rebuke Trump on election On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline Vulnerable Democrats tell Pelosi COVID-19 compromise 'essential' MORE.

Following last week's announcement that talks had reached a stalemate, President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Former Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick MORE signed four executive orders that Democrats panned as insufficient and unconstitutional.

Trump left the door open to further negotiations, but advocates for marginalized communities of color are concerned the White House's strategy could weaken Democratic resolve if negotiators return to the table.

The lawmakers noted in their letter that negotiations for the CARES Act, the original coronavirus relief bill signed in late March, failed to account for the disproportionate effects of the pandemic on minority communities.

"Under your leadership, we passed the historic $2 trillion CARES Act. While this action benefited many Americans, more must be done to protect and support communities of color," wrote the legislators in the draft letter reviewed by The Hill.

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The CARES Act excluded millions of immigrants and their families — who were more often than not people of color — from the bill's benefits.

A provision in the CARES Act doled out $1,200 stimulus checks to many taxpayers and increased unemployment insurance by $600, while making COVID-19 testing and treatment available to people eligible for federal Medicaid.

But several categories of immigrants are only eligible for emergency Medicaid, leaving a gap of at least 10 million people who are not eligible for testing and treatment.

That legislation also excluded some categories of tax paying immigrants from financial benefits, and even made American citizens married to foreign nationals without a Social Security number ineligible for federal financial assistance.

The lawmakers also noted that the financial relief meant to keep companies afloat was not meted out equally to minority-owned businesses.

"Big corporations like Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Shake Shack received $20 million and $10 million loans respectively. They were part of the 0.25 percent of the 1.66 million applicants that received more than $5 million while thousands of other applicants – mostly people of color – were being denied much smaller loans of under $200,000," wrote the lawmakers.

"According to a study released in May by the Center for Responsible Lending, 95% of Black-owned businesses, 91% of Latino and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander-owned businesses, and 75% of Asian-owned businesses had virtually no chance of receiving a PPP loan because of a lack of credit and access to banks," they added.

The lawmakers also cited higher death rates among people of color — Black and Hispanic death rates outpace white death rates throughout the country, and Pacific Islanders in Los Angeles have the highest COVID-19 death rate of any demographic group.

The causes of the higher death rates are varied, ranging from disproportionate representation in high-risk, essential jobs to a higher rate of preexisting comorbidities, but most causes are intertwined with higher poverty rates.

"Democrats must stand strong against [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocratic senator to party: 'A little message discipline wouldn't kill us' House to vote on resolution affirming peaceful transition of power Republican lawyers brush off Trump's election comments MORE [R-K.y.] and the Trump Administration and pass legislation that is of the people, by the people and FOR THE PEOPLE. Not for banks. Not for millionaires. Not for well-connected corporate executives," wrote the lawmakers.

"And while I understand that compromise is part of the negotiating process, surrender is not. We cannot surrender the needs of working families for the sake of moving the process forward," they added.