The White House has announced a dramatic increase in funding to assist communities of color with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Mariel Padilla of nonprofit newsroom The 19th reported that the Biden administration would allocate an additional $785 million from the American Rescue Plan towards helping communities of color that have been hit hardest by the coronavirus. The decision was based on recommendations from a new federal COVID-19 health equity report released last month.
In a statement, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, who heads the administration’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, said, “COVID-19 made it clear that in this country, a person’s ZIP code is a stronger driver of their health than their genetic code. And so, we set out to find ways to address and overcome those social and structural drivers and forge a path forward rooted in what is fundamentally fair.”
The COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force was established in January 2021 on President Biden’s first day in office. Following that executive order, task force members worked a full 10 months before completing their research and submitting the results to the executive branch for review.
According to Padilla, “the task force specifically called on the administration to invest in community-led solutions to combat inequitable health outcomes; enforce equity-driven standards in data collection; increase accountability measures; invest in a representative health care workforce; and implement the report’s recommendations from a more permanent entity focused on health equity within the White House.”
Of the $785 million dedicated to increased community funding, the White House said approximately $240 million has been earmarked to help “create a pipeline program for 13,000 health workers from underserved communities.” This funding will be passed to more than 500 public health sites (emergency departments, shelters, housing programs and mobile health clinics) to help create apprenticeship programs and aid with additional financial needs.
“An additional $210 million will be allocated for tribal communities and health professionals who serve the American Indian and Alaska Native populations,” Padilla reported. “$150 million will help people with disabilities and older adults, particularly those recovering from COVID-19. And more than $175 million will continue supporting vaccine outreach in high-risk communities and diversity efforts in the public health workforce.”
Currently, more than 700,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, and tens of millions more have been infected with the virus — with a disproportionate number of those deaths and infections occurring within communities of color and other underserved populations.
“We’ve had this collective witnessing — all of us,” Nunez-Smith said. “There are things we’ve seen that can’t be unseen. People know that health disparities exist, but inequities exist too. And inequities are driven by systems, policies and practices.”
However, Nunez-Smith remains optimistic. “Through our work, we’ve shown that COVID-19 health equity is not just aspirational. It’s achievable.”