As local leaders respond to this COVID-19 pandemic, government decision-makers and decision-making processes will be tested in unprecedented ways. Now, more than ever, these decisions cannot only consider equity as one piece of many; they must center on equity.
Without applying an explicit equity lens to each city’s COVID-19 response, the response is likely to perpetuate or exacerbate existing inequities for people of color, low-income individuals, people with disabilities, the LGBTQIA+ community, and other vulnerable and marginalized groups.
Communities of Color
In responding to COVID-19, local leaders must account for the systemic and institutional racism that make Black people and people of color particularly vulnerable to both the virus itself, complications from the disease and the societal and economic insecurity created by the pandemic. Black people, people of color and indigenous people face underlying inequities in health, income, wealth, access to government resources and participation, incarceration, education, and nearly every additional feature of society. If cities do not engage communities of color to amplify their voices and needs during this crisis and shape an equity-driven response, their actions are likely to perpetuate and exacerbate these existing inequities.
Low-income families and people of color may have reduced access to health insurance and may face difficult choices when deciding whether to seek out medical services that put them in debt. Additionally, Black people, people of color and indigenous people experience institutional and individual bias not faced by white people, as medical professionals decide who to prioritize with limited beds, tests, and ventilators in hospitals.
Businesses of color face many challenges that are only exacerbated during times of crisis, including a lack of access to capital, weak banking relationships and inferior business support networks. Research has shown that Black and Latino business owners are denied loans at higher rates their white-owned counterparts, a persistent legacy of historical discrimination.
Steps City Leaders Can Take
Partner with health care providers to collect accurate demographic data and disaggregate by race
If cities do not collect data that are disaggregated by race, they cannot measure the impact of the crisis and of their interventions to mitigate harm for communities of color. Some concerns exist about potential quarantine sites being located disproportionately in communities of color, due to disparities in community engagement and the history of placement of environmental hazards in these communities. Below are resources that address the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 crisis on communities of color across policy areas and society.
- Chicago, IL – City COVID-19 data dashboard disaggregates data by race
- Louisiana – State Health Department’s COVID-19 data dashboard disaggregates data by race
- Michigan – State Health and Human Services Department’s COVID-19 data dashboard disaggregates data by race
- Milwaukee County, WI – COVID-19 data dashboard disaggregates data by race
Target resources to address disparities
In order to address disparities in cases and deaths by race and income, these disparities need to be accurately captured so resources can be targeted.
- Suffolk County, NY – target testing in communities of color
- City of Portland, OR – City Prioritizes Women- and People of Color-Owned Businesses in Aid Package
Integrate equity into emergency command center operations
Critical decisions about policies and the allocation of resources, personnel, quarantine and recovery sites are made in each jurisdiction’s emergency command center. An emerging best practice is for individuals and teams focusing on equity to be incorporated into these conversations through a formal role with the emergency command center.
- Chicago, IL- Developed racial equity rapid response network
- King County, WA- COVID-19 Community Response Fund and Equity Impact Awareness Tool for COVID-19 Quarantine and Recovery Sites
Ensure that reducing discrimination and stigma stemming from xenophobia and racism are addressed as part of your city’s COVID-19 response
Because the virus that causes COVID-19 originated in the Wuhan province of China, as the virus has spread around the world, Asian individuals, groups, and families have become the target of anti-Asian racist slurs, rants, and physical attacks. A number of people continue to refer to COVID-19 as the “Wuhan virus” or the “Chinese virus” to make China and Asians scapegoats for the virus’ damage. This crisis is a time to bring our diverse communities together in strength, not pit them against one another through fear. Local leaders play a pivotal role in condemning verbal and physical attacks on Asians and Asian communities and shifting to a message of hope in this time of uncertainty.
- City of Boulder, CO – Stigma and Discrimination Related to COVID-19
- King County, WA – Anti-Stigma Resources
Invest in local businesses of color
The COVID-19 federal stimulus bill included nearly $350 billion in aid for small businesses. However many local, ethnically-diverse small businesses may have challenges accessing such programs due to language barriers, navigating program eligibility rules and a lack of access to technology.
Cities can help businesses of color navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn in a variety of ways:
- Support local ethnic business districts in your community by creating a minority business directory or marketing campaign.
- Partner with the local philanthropic community, community development financial institutions (CDFI) and non-profit economic development organizations to develop relief funds specifically for businesses of color, aid in applying for federal resources and assist owners with language and technological barriers.
- Prioritize and pursue procurement and business opportunities with Minority, Women and Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (MWDBEs) and set firm thresholds for affirmative action obligations under new supply, service, and construction opportunities for local COVID-19 relief.
For more information on support vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit NLC’s website.
Katherine Carter is a Senior Specialist with NLC’s Race, Equity, And Leadership (REAL) Initiative.
Ian Snyder is a Heinz Policy Fellow with NLC’s Race, Equity, And Leadership (REAL) Initiative
Aliza R. Wasserman is the Senior Program Specialist with NLC’s Race, Equity, And Leadership (REAL) Initiative.