By Samaria Bailey
PHILADELPHIA — Communities of color will require more funding and assistance to address the socio-economic and health disparities exposed by coronavirus, local, state and federal leaders said in a NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference virtual town hall this week.
The town hall was the third in a four-part series that the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference has organized to discuss COVID-19’s impact on communities of color. Speakers included U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-1st District; Democratic state Sens. Vincent Hughes and Christine Tartaglione, and Steve Paul, Director of Operations for One Pennsylvania – Action Network.
“The [coronavirus] is…exposing what we already know and it’s just shedding a light,” said Kenneth Huston, president of the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference. “Unfortunately, it had to take COVID-19 to shock the conscious of people around this nation.”
Minister Rodney Muhammad, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP and chairman of Labor & Industry for NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference, moderated the discussion. He started by asking if current policy “errors” could force the country into a deeper recession and if the country is “still in deep trouble despite the economic relief we have already received?”
“Yes, unfortunately,” replied Congressman Boyle, who said he was on his way to Washington while on the call.
“I’m driving to D.C. to make sure I’m here for that vote where we will be voting on a plan crafted by the House democrats… a $3 trillion stimulus bill — the largest in American history. We absolutely need more help from Washington D.C. … For those who make under $40,000 a year, the unemployment rate is 40 percent. How can anyone look at that reality and say we can’t do more stimulus? The bottom line is we absolutely need it. [President Donald] Trump and [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell are dead wrong and the statistics make that obvious.”
More than 1.85 million people have filed unemployment claims in Pennsylvania since March 15.
“In the last 20 years, the most we ever had in one year was 960,000,” Tartaglione said. “I can say that, without reservation, many are Black and brown people.”
Boyle said that’s because “essential workers disproportionately tend to be Black and brown people. That’s where you find the link between systemic racism and policies.”
Hughes said he and other legislators are working on a plan that would address the disparities.
“Congress just sent $2 trillion across the country. Each state received some discretionary dollars. Pennsylvania got $4 billion,” Hughes said. “We decided to put a plan together to get the conversation started. It’s called PA CARES.”
Hughes added that the plan, which includes hazard pay and paid time off, calls for funds to be “driven to front-line workers, first responders, individuals who are nurses, bus drivers, work in food service…individuals who run to the fire. Our plan is driven by folks who have been [hit] the most — seniors, first responders and the Black and brown community. Black and brown [people] have borne an unfair burden in this disease.”
Hughes said Black and brown business owners “have been locked out of the first money,” but in this PA CARES plan, “they get put at the front of the line to get this new money.”
Hughes reiterated that the plan “will have to be agreed to, we need a spirit of cooperation.”
Paul said that’s why it’s important that people vote in this year’s elections.