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Elizabeth Warren And Ayanna Pressley Want To Know How Badly The US Pandemic Response Failed People Of Color

Nine months into the coronavirus pandemic, “It is not clear whether that relief has successfully reached the communities that are most impacted.”

Posted on December 4, 2020, at 11:01 a.m. ET

Sara D. Davis / Getty Images

Sen. Elizabeth Warren with Rep. Ayanna Pressley in November 2019.

The US government needs to investigate whether Black, Latino, and Native American communities most impacted by the pandemic have received adequate coronavirus relief funds, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ayanna Pressley wrote to the Government Accountability Office.

“To date, the federal government has spent trillions of dollars to sustain our health system and mitigate the economic fallout during this public health emergency. However, it is not clear whether that relief has successfully reached the communities that are most impacted,” the lawmakers stated in their letter, shared first with BuzzFeed News.

The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on people of color. Data from the CDC shows that of COVID-19 cases in which the race is known, Latinx people represent about 24% of cases in the US but 19% of the population, and Black people are about 14% of cases and 13% of the population. States with large Native American populations — New Mexico, Wyoming, and South Dakota, for instance — are seeing higher rates in those communities than overall. Demographic data about the pandemic is incomprehensive, however, and the impact on minority populations may be even greater than these data reveal.

After the $2.2 trillion CARES Act was approved in March, the flood of relief funds that suddenly became available was often claimed not by those who needed the help most urgently, but those with the most resources and know-how: large companies, business owners with good banking relationships, and large, well-funded hospitals.

In their letter, Warren and Pressley specifically requested the GAO investigate potential disparities in the Paycheck Protection Program and public health and social services.

Warren and Pressley noted, for example, that in a survey of Black and Latino business owners in the spring, just 12% of those who applied for a PPP loan were approved for the full amount, and half of all surveyed owners expected their businesses to permanently close within six months.

They also questioned whether funds were reaching healthcare providers in communities most in need. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, for instance, found that because hospitals’ aid was based on past revenue, Black communities that needed more relief because they had higher rates of the coronavirus “received the same level of relief funding as counties with less health and financial need.”

In addition to disparities in which hospital funding, testing sites in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods in big cities “face higher demand than those in predominantly white areas of those same cities, leading to longer waits. Independent analyses have found that ZIP codes with large white populations have had more testing sites throughout the pandemic than ZIP codes with more people of color,” according to Warren and Pressley.

As the third wave of the pandemic continues to spread and set new records around the country, its unequal impacts continue to draw more attention from officials. Marcella Nunez-Smith, director at the Equity Research and Innovation Center at Yale School of Medicine and cochair of president-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus advisory board, recently told the Associated Press, “We cannot get this pandemic under control if we do not address head-on the issues of inequity in our country.”

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.

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