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 ChuBiden to nominate Obama alum Ahuja to lead Office of Personnel Management Pelosi, lawmakers denounce violence against Asian Americans Why Biden's diversity efforts fall flat MORE (Calif.), Deb HaalandDeb HaalandHaaland courts moderates during tense Senate confirmation hearing OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Haaland courts moderates during tense confirmation hearing | GOP's Westerman looks to take on Democrats on climate change | White House urges passage of House public lands package Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill MORE (N.M.), Bobby RushBobby Lee RushHouse Democrats criticize Texas's 'shortcomings in preparations' on winter storms Over 40 lawmakers sign letter urging Merrick Garland to prioritize abolishing death penalty Woman who lived in church three years goes home under Biden deportation freeze MORE (Ill.) and Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroTexas governor faces criticism over handling of winter storm fallout DC bureau chief for The Intercept: Impeachment managers became 'like the dog who caught the car' when permitted to call witnesses Key GOP senators question when Trump knew Capitol was breached 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 PelosiFive big takeaways on the Capitol security hearings Curator estimates Capitol art damage from mob totals K Democrats want businesses to help get LGBT bill across finish line MORE (Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHoyer: House will vote on COVID-19 relief bill Friday On The Money: Biden faces backlash from left on student loans | Where things stand on the COVID-19 relief measure | Retail sales rebound The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden navigates pressures from Dems MORE (Md.) and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.).


The letter comes after negotiations collapse on a new coronavirus relief package between Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCongress holds candlelight vigil for American lives lost to COVID-19 The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Lawmakers investigate Jan. 6 security failures Senate confirms Thomas-Greenfield as UN ambassador MORE (D-N.Y.), White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsHow scientists saved Trump's FDA from politics Liberals howl after Democrats cave on witnesses Kinzinger calls for people with info on Trump to come forward MORE and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinOn The Money: Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill | Collins rules out GOP support for Biden relief plan | Powell fights inflation fears Mnuchin expected to launch investment fund seeking backing from Persian Gulf region: report Larry Kudlow debuts to big ratings on Fox Business Network MORE.

Following last week's announcement that talks had reached a stalemate, President TrumpDonald TrumpRomney: 'Pretty sure' Trump would win 2024 GOP nomination if he ran for president Pence huddles with senior members of Republican Study Committee Trump says 'no doubt' Tiger Woods will be back after accident 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.


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 McConnellMcConnell backs Garland for attorney general Trump to attend private RNC donor retreat The Patriot Party already exists — it's the Democrats 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.