Category Archives: Healthcare

During Black Maternal Health Week, We Call on Congress to Pass the Momnibus Act

During Black Maternal Health Week, We Call on Congress to Pass the Momnibus Act

Caraline Feairheller
April 14, 2021

This week, Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC-12), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (IL-14), and 77 original cosponsors introduced a resolution recognizing Black Maternal Health Week, “to bring national attention to the maternal health crisis in the United States and the urgent importance of reducing maternal mortality and morbidity among Black women and birthing persons.”

The United States has a maternal mortality health crisis that must be addressed. Around the developed world, pregnancy-related mortality rates are falling, except in the United States – where birthing people are dying at a morally unacceptable and rising rate. Approximately 700 women die each year due to pregnancy-related causes with an additional 50,000 experiencing severe health complications from pregnancy. This crisis is most severe for Black birthing people, who are dying 3 to 4 times the rate of their white counterparts. This is a tragedy for our society and for the families who have lost loved ones, and the racial disparities are unjust and sinful.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased the barriers to accessing care and exacerbated the already existing racial disparities. Congresswoman Adams, co-founder and co-chair of the Black Maternal Health Caucus pointed this out, saying, “Black Americans were one of the hardest hit communities during this pandemic, and Black and Hispanic mothers accounted for a majority of COVID-19 cases among pregnant women in the United States.” We must dismantle the systemic racism in our health care system and our nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to build anew together.

Earlier this year,  members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus introduced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act (H.R.595/S.346) to address the maternal health crisis. In a country where at least 60% of maternal deaths are preventable, the Momnibus helps to fill current policy gaps in receiving care.  This comprehensive legislation seeks to address social determinants of health, invest in community-based organizations, fund research development and data collection, and invest in efforts to diversify the perinatal workforce. In total, the Momnibus is a combination of 12 standalone bills that have been introduced or reintroduced into the 117th Congress. NETWORK is proud to support the Momnibus Act, applauds the Black Maternal Health Caucus for its leadership, and calls on Congress to pass this critical legislation immediately. The Momnibus includes the following legislation:

The Social Determinants for Moms Act (H.R.943):

Introduced by Representative Lucy McBath (D-GA-06), this legislation recognizes that social determinants of health, defined as the conditions where people live, learn, work, and play; affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes. By focusing on these social determinants, this legislation will address the root cause of gaps in care by establish a task force to coordinate federal efforts to address social determinants, provide funding for safe and quality housing for pregnant people, extending Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) eligibility periods for new moms, and invest in funding research that will explore environmental risk, transportation barriers, and more.

The Kira Johnson Act (H.R.1212):

Introduced by Representative Alma Adams (D-NC-12), this legislation is named after Kira Johnson who, despite being in excellent health, died from a hemorrhage after delivering her son Langston. Unfortunately, Kira’s story is not unique in the United States. In order to combat the complex causes of maternal mortality and promote accountability, this legislation invests in community-based organizations that are leading the charge to support outcomes for Black pregnant and postpartum people and women of color. It provides support for bias and anti-racism training programs as well as establishes the Respectful Maternity Care Compliance Programs within hospitals so families can report instances of racial or other types of bias.

Protecting Moms Who Served Act (H.R.958):

Introduced by Representative Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14) and Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), this legislation seeks to uncover the reality for the more than two million women veterans in the United States and their maternal health outcomes. As so little is known about maternal health among veterans, this legislation will commission the first-ever study on the maternal health crises among veterans; with a specific focus on racial and ethnic disparities and identifying potential mental and behavioral risks. Following the study, recommendations will be made to healthcare providers. The legislation will  also provide funding towards ensuring coordination takes place between Veterans Affairs and non-Veterans Affairs facilities, facilitate access to community resources, and offer childcare and parenting classes to veterans.

Perinatal Workforce Act:

Introduced by Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI-4) and Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), this legislation addresses the lack of access to maternity care found in both rural and urban communities. More than 1/3 of counties in the United State are considered ‘maternity care deserts meaning that more than 7 million birthing people live where there is no or limited access to maternity care. Specifically, this legislation establishes grant programs to increase access to maternity care providers, provides guidance to states on diverse maternal care, will allow programs to increase number of nurses and other health care workers, and fund studies on barriers that prevent women from entering maternity care professions.

Data to Save Moms Act (H.R.952/S.347):

Introduced by Representative Sharice Davids (D-KS-3) and Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), this legislation builds off the 2018 Preventing Maternal Deaths law by promoting greater levels of representative community engagement in Maternal Mortality Review Committees (MMRCs). MMRCS gather key stakeholders together to listen to the experiences of pregnant people and how these stories can inform health quality measures that promote safe, culturally competent, patient-centered maternity care. Also, this legislation invests in improving data collection and maternal health research at Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs.) Finally, this legislation will establish the first-ever comprehensive study to understand the scope of the Native American maternal health crisis, who are more than twice as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than their white counterparts.

Moms Matter Act (H.R.909/S.484):

Introduced by Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE-AL), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Representative John Katko (R-NY-24), this bipartisan legislation addresses the unique challenge maternal mental health conditions as “mental health conditions are one of the leading causes of pregnancy-related deaths.” This crises is disproportionately felt by Black birthing people who are at increased risk for suicidal ideation and intentional self-harm during pregnancy and postpartum. This legislation will make investments in programs that support moms with maternal mental health conditions and substance use disorders, create initiatives that address stigma, and invest in suicide prevention programs. Also, it will provide funding to grow and diversity the maternal mental health care workforce in order to create culturally-competent care for pregnant and postpartum people with maternal mental health conditions.

Justice for Incarcerated Moms Act (H.R.948/S.341):

Introduced by Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-07) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), this legislation addresses the maternal health crises of pregnant people who are incarcerated, as they face a heighted risk for maternal mortality. The consequences of the United States addiction to mass incarceration from 190 to 2016 has resulted in the number of women in prison increasing nearly 742%, of those who are incarcerated it is Black women who are imprisoned at twice the rate of white women. This legislation will seek to end the immoral practice of shackling pregnant people, provide funds for reentry assistance programs, funds for diversionary programs to prevent incarceration of pregnant and postpartum people, and study the negative implications of Medicaid coverage termination for incarcerated mothers.

Tech to Save Moms Act (H.R.937):

Introduced by Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-32) and Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), this legislation recognizes that digital tools, such as telehealth services, can play an important and unique role in addressing maternal health in underserved areas. Specifically, this legislation will promote integration and development of telehealth, provide grants to ensure high-speed, reliable internet access; promote digital tools designed to address racial and ethnic disparities, and study the use of new technology in preventing racial and ethnic bias.

IMPACT to Save Moms Act (H.R.950/S.334):

Introduced by Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-09) and Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), this legislation recognizes that maternal care payment options affect maternal health outcomes. The legislation will establish a new Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that promotes equitable and quality maternal health outcomes for pregnant people covered by Medicaid. It also develops strategies to ensure continuity of health insurance coverage for pregnant and postpartum people, including presumptive eligibility for Medicaid/CHIP programs, automatic reenrollment in Medicaid/CHIP for birthing people, and prevents any disruptions on coverage during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and up to one year postpartum.

Maternal Health Pandemic Response Act:

Introduced by Representative Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), this legislation recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemics has worsened the already existing and immoral maternal mortality crisis in the United States. Pregnant people are at a significant risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes and Black women experienced a disproportionate number of deaths. This legislation makes targeted investments to advance safe maternal health outcomes during COVID-19 and beyond. It will require COVID-19 data collection be disaggregated by pregnancy status, ensure vaccines are safe for pregnant people, and establish a take force for creating safe birthing experiences during COVID-19 and potential future disease outbreaks.

Protecting Moms and Babies Against Climate Change Act (H.R.957/S.423):

Introduced by Representative Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), this legislation recognizes the reality of climate change exacerbating risks for pregnant people. As climate change results in greater air pollution and heat exposure, pregnant people and their infants are at risk and the legacy of environmental racism leaves Black mothers particularly at risk. This legislation will establish research opportunities on the relationship between climate change and pregnancy, design programs to identify climate change risk zones for pregnant people and their babies, provide health professional training on how to mitigate the risk of climate-change related risks, and provide funding to improve infrastructure.

Maternal Vaccination Act (H.R.951/S.345):

Introduced by Representative Terri A. Sewell (D-AL-07) and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), this legislation will provide funding for programs to increase maternal vaccinations rates and develop maternal vaccinations campaigns with community-based partner organizations and trusted leaders.

The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 is a necessary and comprehensive collection of 12 bills that must be passed into law in order to address the immoral legacy of the United State maternal mortality crisis. NETWORK Lobby urges members of Congress to quickly pass the Momnibus, in its entirety, in order to honor the essential dignity of each human person.

Learn more about each of the bills included in the Momnibus Act here.

Congress Must Pass Vital COVID-19 Relief Package Before End of Year

Congress Must Pass Vital COVID-19 Relief Package Before End of Year

Audrey Carroll
December 7, 2020

The Advent and holiday season is a time of hope and celebration in preparation for the new year. However, COVID-19 is making celebrating the season difficult as families, essential workers, and those on the frontlines struggle to put food on the table and pay rent. People are being forced to choose between risking their health or their paychecks due to the lack of action from Congress to provide a robust pandemic relief package. This virus has affected millions of households of all backgrounds and it is time for Congress to act now.

More than 270,000 people have died from COVID-19, and millions are set to lose vital benefits and protections when the stimulus packages expire at the end of the year. As the pandemic worsens, so does the economy– which will continue to backslide without action from Congress.

Congress must pass a COVID-19 Relief Package that:

  • Increases maximum SNAP benefits by 15%
  • Allocates more money for housing and assistance for those experiencing homelessness
  • Extends the moratorium on evictions
  • Extends expanded unemployment assistance
  • Expands the EITC and Child Tax Credit
  • Authorizes an additional economic impact payment

Call your Senators and tell them we need COVID-19 relief NOW! We are running out of time to protect our people and their benefits.

Join our Tweet Storm on Thursday at 1 PM Pacific/4 PM Eastern by tweeting this message. Or share NETWORK’s Facebook post, and tag your Senators in the comments!

Advent 2020: Waiting for Health Care Justice

Advent 2020: Waiting for Health Care Justice

Audrey Carroll
November 24, 2020

In the Catholic tradition, Advent is the sacred season of waiting. During Advent, we are called to reflect and hope for what new life may bring us. In this case, the newly elected Biden/Harris administration has created a world of opportunity for advancing policies that are needed to protect the common good.

We have been waiting four years for the Trump administration to atone for their attacks on our nation’s health care, but they have remained consistent in their efforts to strip vulnerable people of care, while encouraging the increasing profit margins of private insurance companies. President-elect Joe Biden has promised to protect and expand the Affordable Care Act and create a more accessible health care system. During this period of transition and season of waiting, we continue to hope for equitable health care for all.

After four years of undermining the Affordable Care Act, the Trump Administration has driven coverage rates into the ground while health care costs skyrocket. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of uninsured Americans rose by 2.3 million from 2016 to 2019, including 726,000 children. The rising number of uninsured people  is the result of actions taken to attack the ACA, like repealing the individual mandate and the Trump administration’s restrictions on Medicaid. The administration’s utter failure to control the COVID-19 pandemic has also led to rising uninsured numbers, as people lose their jobs and essential workers are left without benefits.

According to health economist Emily Gee, While the pandemic has depressed economic activity this year in most industries, insurance companies’ profitability to date has topped last year’s, “and they will continue to increase profit if Trump follows through on his executive order to shift more Medicare beneficiaries into private plans.” Despite the recent losses in coverage, Trump still managed to move forward with an ACA Repeal Lawsuit and push through the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. It’s been made clear that the Trump Administration values the health of the market over the health of the people, and a lot of work must be done  to reverse the harm they have done.

President-elect Biden has made improving the nation’s health care system a priority for his incoming administration. He has promised to build on the Affordable Care Act by giving every American access to affordable health insurance, creating a more accessible and less complex system, lowering prescription drug costs, and emphasizing health care as a human right. Biden’s plan offers hope for the millions of vulnerable Americans and health care advocates who have been fighting for comprehensive, life-saving coverage.

According to the Pew Research Center, health care was the second-most important issue to voters in the 2020 election, and it’s essential for these healthcare voters to continue their advocacy during the Biden Administration. While Biden’s plan certainly seems like it will move the health care system in a forward-moving, positive direction, we must hold the new administration accountable to guarantee that while we increase access to care, we are also addressing  and eliminating health care disparities, especially in communities of color.

The lives lost to COVID-19 and health care disparities in the U.S. show that we have waited far too long for health care justice. During this political transition period and Advent season, we must continue to hope and pray that the wait ends with the incoming administration. We can use this time to recharge and renew our spirits so that when the time comes, we are ready to keep fighting for equitable health care for all people.

Amy Coney Barrett, the Supreme Court, and COVID-19: A Case of Misplaced Priorities

Amy Coney Barrett, the Supreme Court, and COVID-19: A Case of Misplaced Priorities

Laura Peralta-Schulte
October 12, 2020

Right now, families and communities across the United States are in crisis. With the COVID-19 pandemic spiraling out of control and a pronounced economic slowdown, the nation’s health and economic security are at high risk. The new Census Household Pulse Survey data released last week shows that since late August the overall number of adults struggling to cover usual household expenses such as food, rent or mortgage, car payments, medical expenses, or student loans is expanding rapidly. Nearly 77 million adults – 1 in 3 – reported it was somewhat or very difficult for their household to cover usual expenses in the past seven days, according to data collected September 16-28. Meanwhile, federal supplemental unemployment benefits have run out for millions of people who have lost their jobs, many permanently. Without federal action, jobless workers grappling with sharply reduced incomes will face growing challenges paying their bills. As Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said recently: “Too little support would lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship for households and businesses…Even if policy actions ultimately prove to be greater than needed, they will not go to waste.”

It is against this backdrop that President Trump and Senator McConnell announced this week they are stopping negotiations with Speaker Pelosi and House leadership on a COVID-19 relief package and instead focusing solely on plans to confirm Trump’s nominee Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. The Senate has failed to provide any meaningful coronavirus relief legislation since April 2020 – nearly half a year has passed with unnecessary suffering and death due to this lack of response. Urgent action should be taken to alleviating the suffering and economic distress of the people experiencing this crisis, but instead the Senate is engaged in high stakes partisan politics.

NETWORK strongly opposes a hasty confirmation process the Senate is conducting so close to a national election in which many Americans will have already cast their ballot. The timing disregards the voice of the electorate and undermines trust in our democratic institutions, which is already fragile. There is a real cost to tarnishing the national perception of Congress and the presidency by focusing on expediting a Supreme Court nominee while failing to attend to the protracted national suffering.

During this fragile time in our nation, it is vital that our national leaders act with prudence rather than political posturing. Our democratic institutions are maintained by norms and tradition to uphold the balance of powers between the three branches of government. There is no precedent for allowing a president to have such extraordinary influence over the outcome of the next federal election, which he is already threatening to contest. The one at risk of facing judgment should not get to choose the judges.

A fast-tracked confirmation process of Judge Barrett is a clear abdication of the Senate’s constitutional advice-and-consent function. It jeopardizes the rights and lives of the most vulnerable among us and it undermines the integrity of our most basic democratic norms and institutions.

October 2020 feels like a tipping point for our democracy –the fatigue and hardship of the people, the cynicism and division of the civic body, the disinformation inundating the public is palpable. Just because one party has the constitutional right to seize power in a situation does not justify the damage it will do to our civic fabric.  The rush to hold Supreme Court hearings at this time, before this particular election is ill-advised and unnecessary.  There is no constitutional requirement for the timing of this process and we urge Senator McConnell and members of the Judiciary Committee to wait until after the election has been certified.

By forcing this nomination through, in this manner, President Trump and Republican leadership are endangering what remains of our civic trust and putting our very democracy at risk instead of doing the right thing, the just thing, of meeting the real needs of our people in these difficult times.

NETWORK Joins Partners in Supporting Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Vote

NETWORK Joins Partners in Supporting Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Vote

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
September 15, 2020

National policies must ensure family-friendly workplace protections in order to respect the needs of each individual. Workers, especially women of color, must have a work environment where everyone can balance work and family responsibilities. NETWORK Lobby joined its faith and religious organization partners on Friday, September 11th in signing on to a letter to the House of Representatives supporting the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 2694).

The letter read: “Our faith traditions affirm the dignity of pregnant individuals and the moral imperative of ensuring their safety. We also affirm the dignity of work and the obligation to treat workers justly. It is immoral for an employer to force a worker to choose between a healthy pregnancy and earning a living. By passing the bipartisan Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 2694), Congress will ensure that workers who are pregnant will be treated fairly in the
workforce and can continue earning income to support themselves and their families.”

Read the letter of support below:

“Dear Representative,

On behalf of the undersigned religious and faith-based organizations representing a diversity of faith traditions and communities across the nation, we write today in support of healthy workplace environments and conditions for pregnant workers. We urge you to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 2694). People of faith across the ideological spectrum understand that prioritizing the health and safety of pregnant workers should not be a partisan issue. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would ensure that pregnant workers can continue safely working to support their families during a pregnancy. The bill requires employers to make the same sort of accommodations for pregnant workers as are already in place for workers with disabilities.

Our faith traditions affirm the dignity of pregnant individuals and the moral imperative of ensuring their safety. We also affirm the dignity of work and the obligation to treat workers justly. It is immoral for an employer to force a worker to choose between a healthy pregnancy and earning a living. By passing the bipartisan Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 2694), Congress will ensure that workers who are pregnant will be treated fairly in the workforce and can continue earning income to support themselves and their families. Efforts to distract from the central goal of ensuring pregnant workers can maintain their health and the health of their pregnancies by inserting unnecessary, harmful, and politically divisive language into this bill undermines our obligation to protect pregnant workers across our country.

While many pregnant individuals continue working throughout their pregnancies without incident, there are instances when minor accommodations are necessary at the workplace to ensure the safety of the expecting mother and the baby. All too often, requests for simple workplace accommodations like a stool to sit, a water bottle, or a bathroom break are denied. Within the COVID-19 context, such critical accommodations might include proper protective equipment, telework, or staggered work schedules that offer employees commute times which avoid crowded public transportation and increased exposure. Currently, pregnant workers may continue to work without necessary accommodations because they fear losing their jobs and need the income, thus endangering their health or the health of their pregnancy. Without these protections, it is not uncommon for pregnant workers to be let go or forced out onto unpaid leave for requesting accommodations. Many others must quit their job to avoid risking the health of their pregnancy.

Passing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is a moral and economic imperative; two-thirds of women who had their first child between 2006 and 2008 worked during pregnancy, and 88 percent of these first-time mothers worked into their last trimester. Keeping these women healthy and in the workforce is paramount to family economic security. Nearly 25 million mothers with children under 18 are in the workforce, making up nearly 1 in 6 of all workers. And about 3 in 4 mothers in the workforce are working full time. Millions of families rely on their earnings. In 2017, 41 percent of mothers were the sole or primary breadwinners in their families, while 23.2 percent of mothers were co-breadwinners. Whole families suffer when pregnant workers are forced out of a job.

The undersigned religious and faith-based groups are united in support of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. We strongly urge you to vote for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, and to vote against any motion to recommit that may be offered.

Sincerely, the undersigned:
Ameinu
Arizona Jews for Justice
Aytzim: Ecological Judaism
Bend the Arc: Jewish Action
Catholic Labor Network
Church World Service
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, U.S. Provinces
Faith Action Network
Faith Action Network – Washington State
Franciscan Action Network
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Keshet
Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action
Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Boston
Jewish Women International
Justice Revival
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
National Council of Churches
National Council of Jewish Women
Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies
NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
Pax Christi USA
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Union for Reform Judaism
Uri L’Tzedek
Women of Reform Judaism

Read the letter here

Our Nation’s Political and Moral Response to a Global Pandemic

Our Nation’s Political and Moral Response to a Global Pandemic

Seeking Justice in the Face of Both a Health and Economic Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused illness and death and led to widespread unemployment and an entirely new daily reality in the United States and across the world. NETWORK quickly shifted lobbying priorities, advocating for workers and families to be prioritized in every coronavirus response package passed by Congress. We knew that those with the least would be the ones hurt the most by this crisis, as is often the case.

The COVID-19 pandemic is both a public health crisis and an economic one, and people of color have been disproportionately affected on both counts. Families and individuals, especially in communities of color, will continue to experience the negative financial effects of this crisis for months and even years to come. We need structural solutions. Congress must recognize the challenges facing those at the economic margins during this difficult time and choose people over profit in all of their policy decisions.

COVID-19 has given new urgency and significance to our moral mandate to provide health care for all, to protect the rights and health of workers, to ensure sufficient affordable housing, and to mend the gaps in all other areas of our society. As we continue our advocacy, we recognize the undeniable truth that during this pandemic, and at all times, the wellbeing of our nation depends on the wellbeing of each and every person.

So far, three main pieces of legislation have become law, with some provisions supporting health and the common good, and others giving tax breaks and other benefits to the wealthiest people and corporations. Further action must still be taken, however, to provide sufficient financial resources for families and individuals to be able to afford their rent and other necessities. In May, the House passed another large package with billions of dollars that would go toward those most affected by this crisis. The Senate must act to pass similar legislation to respond to the needs of our nation.

 

This story was originally published in the Third Quarter 2020 issue of Connection magazine. Read the full issue

The Forgotten Ones

The Forgotten Ones

Maria Gomez and Bibi Hidalgo
June 5, 2020

The majority of eligible Americans have now received stimulus checks through the CARES Act, except for the excluded workers — the forgotten ones — who we depend on in many facets of our lives. These forgotten — but essential — workers pick the ripe fruits we eat; they cook the warm meals at our favorite take-out restaurants; and they sanitize checkout devices at grocery stores late into the night so that we will be less afraid of COVID-19 when we shop. Regardless of their legal status, they disinfect our surroundings and feed us.

As one of the 1,400 Community Health Centers across the country that serves families below the poverty line, Mary’s Center in the Washington, D.C. region is on the frontlines of this crisis. We have seen the health and job insecurity that our nation now confronts through the eyes of the 60,000 adults and children we have served annually since 1988. Each day the people who reach out to us are seeking life-saving medicines, health care, shelter, food and income. Our telemedicine team ensures that line cooks and sanitation workers have access to hypertension and asthma medications. Our counselors talk with them when they experience emotional hardships. Thousands of people — 54,000 to be exact — had a total of 270,000 visits to our five centers in 2018 and that number is now growing significantly.

Across the U.S., community health centers serve 29 million people, which is close to 10 percent of the population. No hospital system in the U.S. serves a number that size. Yet as it stands today, millions of low-wage workers and their families are in danger of collapse, unless we can work together as a whole society — philanthropy and big business, local and state government, families and communities — to ensure everyone overcomes the COVID-19 crisis and that we build a more resilient society.

In the absence of a unifying government, we need to do this ourselves.

We can accomplish this by having federally qualified community health centers in major cities partner with business executives and philanthropies to create a national plan that will stem this crisis and help rebuild the country. Last week Congress passed another stimulus measure providing small businesses loans through the Paycheck Protection Program. It remains to be seen whether any of the small and micro-businesses in our community that hire our clients gain access to the program. Up until now that hasn’t been the case. In the meantime, their workers are facing the despair of day-to-day survival.

National nonprofits, foundations and government bodies are having urgent calls daily to determine how they can provide relief to community organizations in addition to any stimulus operating support. If the 2008 financial crisis is any lesson though, it is time we flip the script and have community organizations lead the national conversation about what is sorely needed.

Ten million families still lost their homes despite the 2.7 million families who benefited from mortgage modifications supported by the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Programwhich took a top-down approach to problem-solving. By the time resources arrived to community organizations providing housing counseling to Latinx and African-American families who had been misled by lenders to take out subprime mortgages, it amounted to table crumbs that did not leverage local knowledge of how to build trust, engage and serve the most economically vulnerable.

Community Health Centers across the nation are eager to collaborate with the private sector and state and local governments to find solutions. We can help large corporations track the patterns we see on the ground with the pandemic and the resources that are needed to rebuild communities and ultimately a robust economy. Pharmaceutical companies can ensure that frontline community health centers across the United States have a steady supply of diabetes, asthma and life-saving medications available. Health care distributors can ensure we have medical supplies, such as masks, bandages and thermometers.

Together with major grocery chains and wholesale companies, we can ensure that low-wage workers who did not receive a stimulus check have provisions to feed their families. By working together, we can create a stabilization supply-chain to feed, clothe and shelter the forgotten ones. The ones who are ultimately indispensable to you, me and all of us as a nation.

Maria Gomez is president and CEO of Mary’s Center, a Washington D.C. region Community Health Center, and Presidential Citizen Awardee @MarysCenter.

Bibi Hidalgo is co-founder of Future Partners LLC and served as an economic policy appointee in the Obama White House and U.S. Treasury @BibiHidalgo.

Originally published at TheHill.com.

How To Organize During a Pandemic

How To Organize During a Pandemic

Alex Burnett
May 27, 2020

Recently, journalists have written extensively about the anti-lockdown protests gripping our nation. During the past month, The New York Times published at least 15 stories about anti-lockdown protesters, highlighting their propensity to carry assault weapons, flaunt social distancing, display Confederate flags, and secure funding from prominent conservative donors. This reporting is crucially important, especially since many of these demonstrators espouse white supremacist rhetoric and actively participate in neo-Nazi organizations, like The Proud Boys.

Despite its significance, this reporting can eclipse stories about progressive activists who are struggling for a socially just COVID-19 response. Workers in at least 7 states organized strikes involving more than 1,000 people in March and April, but the media largely ignored their historic organizing and instead focused primarily on the anti-lockdown crowd.

In this blog post, I want to highlight some progressive activists—specifically, The Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) and National Nurses United (NNU). Both NNU and PPC are building grassroots support for a COVID-19 response that advances racial and economic justice, while recognizing we cannot “return to normal” if this pandemic abides. By demanding immediate COVID-19 relief alongside permanent systemic change, PPC and NNU are demonstrating how other justice-seekers can effectively organize during the coronavirus lockdown.

The Poor People’s Campaign: Working Towards a “New Normal”

A national coalition led by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, The Poor People’s Campaign quickly recognized why coronavirus hit the U.S. remarkably hard. The PPC condemned the federal government’s reckless and uncoordinated response,” but maintained, “The current emergency…results from a deeper and much longer-term crisis”—the “evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism,” described by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in May 1967. To fully address the COVID-19 crisis, the PPC argued that the U.S. must eliminate racism, poverty, and our environmentally destructive wartime economy.

Approximately 50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the Poor People’s March on Washington, Dr. Barber revived Dr. King’s efforts at building a mass, multiracial movement of working-class people intent on transforming American society. Since 2017, the PPC organized 43 state committees, comprised of low-income people and faith leaders, lobbied federal and state policymakers around their Moral Agenda, and coordinated civil disobedience nationwide. With support from dozens of social justice organizations, including NETWORK, the PPC is now turning their attention to the COVID-19 crisis, hoping to bring the kind of pressure that many lawmakers haven’t felt since the 1960’s civil rights revolution.

To accomplish this ambitious goal, the PPC is working closely with local organizers, explained Adam Barnes, who coordinates the PPC’s faith partnerships and The Rights & Religions Program at The Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice. Since January, the PPC mobilized its members to support local responses to the COVID-19 crisis—including rent strikes, mutual aid networks, workplace walkouts, and anti-hospital closure demonstrations. These expressions of “non-cooperation,” Barnes emphasized, are faithful responses to the coronavirus pandemic. Since half the U.S. population lived in poverty before coronavirus eliminated a single job, the PPC believes these actions are urgent.

Crucially, the PPC’s local organizing amplifies their national advocacy. On April 3rd, the PPC sharply criticized COVID-19 relief legislation for funneling trillions of federal dollars into investment banks without guaranteeing healthcare, income, and housing for all Americans. To bolster their message, the PPC organized a National Week of Action, scheduled for May 21st (5/21). On May 21st, justice-seekers can call or email Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and ask them to support the PPC’s Moral Agenda and COVID-19 demands, which would provide immediate COVID-19 relief and reduce racial and economic inequality. Additionally, as part of this week of action, religious communities can host special services amplifying the PPC’s message and mourning the 250,000 people killed by poverty each year. Click here to learn more about the May 21st week of action.

Much of this activism is building towards the PPC’s Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington. NETWORK is proud to join the Poor People’s Campaign as a mobilizing partner for the Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington Digital Justice Gathering, on June 20, 2020. At this historic event, which PPC organizers hope will be the largest digital gathering of low-income people in U.S. history, PPC speakers will denounce what “normal” looked like before the pandemic—140 million people living in poverty, an irredeemably racist criminal justice system, widespread voter suppression in communities of color, and unsanitary deportation camps, which separate immigrant families. After offering solutions to these “normal” problems and the COVID-19 crisis, PPC speakers will help participants develop plans for building grassroots power in their communities. To RSVP for the PPC’s June 20th event, click here.

“We’ve seen how broken our system really is,” Adam Barnes told me. “I can guarantee you that the people in power are going to push for us to ‘return to normal,’ but this is a chance for us to do things differently.” Adam is right. By supporting innovative groups, like NNU and the PPC, we can struggle for a solution to this crisis that pushes us towards something better than “normal.” Hopefully, it will resemble justice.

National Nurses United & The Long Struggle for Health Justice

The largest labor union of registered nurses (RNs) in the United States, National Nurses United responded to COVID-19 months before it dominated headlines. On January 30, 2020, NNU sent a letter to the World Health Organization (WHO), which demanded better COVID-19 protections for healthcare workers. By mid-March, the union had lobbied most federal health agencies, spoken with dozens of Members of Congress, and organized a national day of action, in which thousands of nurses demanded more personal protective equipment (PPE) and coronavirus testing. Crucially, NNU emphasized that our nation’s broken healthcare system was not prepared for a pandemic requiring mass testing and hospitalization. According to a March 2020 NNU analysis covering 48 states, over 70% of hospitals did not have sufficient PPE or a plan for treating COVID-19 patients.

Over the next 2 months, NNU continued pressuring policymakers and employers to prioritize people over profit in their coronavirus response. Besides demanding the Cook County Department of Corrections release incarcerated people from jails and prisons, NNU continually stressed that COVID-19 disproportionately harms low-income people of color. With these stakes in mind, nearly 100,000 NNU nurses organized May Day actions across 13 states, during which they called on the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) to better protect healthcare workers and their patients. Most recently, NNU brought the heat to the White House, where nurses coordinated a vigil-protest honoring 88 recently deceased nurses.

NNU’s flurry of activity offers a model for progressives interested in organizing during the coronavirus lockdown. By combining digital actions, vigils, and confrontational protests, NNU created many avenues for participation, leading to remarkably high levels of turnout. Additionally, NNU did not limit their demands to one branch of government or a single negligent employer. Through pressuring federal and state policymakers alongside the private sector, NNU demonstrated that our entire healthcare system bears responsibility for the harm wrought by coronavirus. A longtime advocate for safe staffing levels and patient protections, NNU was ideally positioned to make this clear.

To learn about upcoming NNU actions, visit their website.

For A Better COVID-19 Relief Plan, Let’s #FundFamilies

For A Better COVID-19 Relief Plan, Let’s #FundFamilies

Ness Perry 
May 12, 2020

On Thursday, May 7, 2020, NETWORK Lobby and our partners Moms Rising, Children’s Defense Fund, First Focus, and The Coalition on Human Needs gathered virtually for a tweet storm encouraging Congress to #FundFamilies. This digital action aimed to ask for increased, consistent cash assistance for families and an expansion of the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Social media is key to putting pressure on Members of Congress while in-person lobbying and hill visits are no longer an option.

NETWORK participated in the #FundFamilies tweetstorm because our faith teaches us to care for people at the margins in our country. Our economic recovery package should support those who need it the most, which is why we call on Congress to provide cash payments to every adult until the pandemic is over. This should be given to households that did not receive prior support from the CARES Act. This includes low- or no-income families that do not file tax returns, and families with ITINs including mixed-immigration status households.

Families need direct aid, as well as credits in the coming tax season. We know that the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit works, therefore we must expand it to provide aid for more families. The Child Tax Credit leaves behind more than 1/3 of children in families who earn too little to get the full credit — including 1/2 of Black and Latinx children. In order to mend the racial wealth and income gap, we must call on Congress to provide relief for all families, especially families of color.

Here are some highlights from the event:

https://twitter.com/RepBarbaraLee/status/1258442973332869124

COVID-19 Illustrates and Amplifies Racism

COVID-19 Illustrates and Amplifies Racism

Alex Burnett and Colleen Ross
April 24, 2020

NETWORK’s advocacy is rooted in ensuring all have what they need to live healthy, dignified lives. COVID-19 is a new, global challenge to this mission. Both the health dangers as well as the economic ramifications of COVID-19 are very real threats to human life, but these threats do not affect everyone living in the United States the same way.

Due to centuries of systemic injustice, people of color in the United States are experiencing additional hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our federal government’s response must take this into account and prioritize assistance for communities of color in ongoing legislation.

Higher Rates of Infection and Death for People of Color

Across Washington, D.C. and every state that has collected coronavirus data by race and ethnicity, people of color are suffering and dying from COVID-19 at higher rates than white people.

For the Black community especially, the number of people who have been infected with COVID-19 and died as a result of COVID-19 is vastly disproportional. Majority black counties have three times the rate of infections and nearly six times the rate of deaths as majority white counties, according to analysis done by the Washington Post. Data collected from the states by Mother Jones further illustrates the disparity for the Black community:

  • In Wisconsin, Black people represent 6% of the population and nearly 40% of COVID-19 fatalities
  • In Louisiana, Black people make up 32% of the state’s population but almost 60% of fatalities
  • In Kansas, 6% of the population is Black and yet Black people account for more than 30% of COVID-19 deaths

These higher rates of COVID-19 infection and death for the Black community are a direct reflection of the systemic racism present in our nation’s healthcare, housing, workforce, and society. Centuries of denying Black people access to quality health care, as well as other social determinants of health, have led to more Black people having chronic illnesses or underlying health conditions that lead to negative COVID-19 outcomes. COVID-19 is putting a spotlight on the deeply embedded racial inequities that impact health and well-being in the United States with or without a pandemic.

Workers of Color: Increased Risk, Cuts, and Unemployment

While many white professionals can work remotely during this crisis, a disproportionate number of people of color continue working public-facing, “essential” jobs. The Labor Department reported 30% of white workers and 37% of Asian American workers could work from home in 2017 and 2018, while 20% of Black workers and only 16% of Latinx workers could do so.

Despite anti-discrimination legislation, the U.S. labor market remains highly racially segregated, with more people of color in low-wage positions in health care, food service, childcare, public transportation, and shipping. Because these industries sustain the U.S. economy, “stay-at home” orders haven’t applied to their largely Black and brown workforces, meaning “essential” workers of color face heightened danger. According to a March 2020 report from the Economic Policy Institute, 80.3% of Black workers and 83.8% of Latinx workers cannot practice safe social distancing by working from home.

Within two months, the coronavirus crisis has left thousands of workers of color sick, dead, unemployed, and uninsured. In New York City, Black and Latinx people are dying from COVID-19 at twice the rate of whites, partially because many cannot work remotely. In majority Black cities and on Native American reservations, employers are firing workers of color at skyrocketing rates, leaving thousands without health insurance and income amidst a global pandemic.

Despite these circumstances, workers of color are leading movements for occupational safety and improved benefits. In Rhode Island, frontline healthcare workers, who are largely women of color, have repeatedly rallied for higher hazard pay, better personal protective equipment (PPE), and safer staffing levels. Amazon warehouse workers, who are primarily Black and Latinx, have organized numerous walkouts since the COVID-19 pandemic escalated, demanding safer working conditions. These movements demonstrate that workers of color are actively pressuring lawmakers and employers to mitigate COVID-19’s racist impact. As justice-seekers, we support these efforts and call for elected officials and business leaders to value people over profits.

Greater Economic Losses for People of Color

The COVID-19 virus is both a public health crisis and an economic one, and people of color are disproportionately affected on both counts. NPR found the U.S. March jobs data showed worse rates of unemployment for people of color, with the share of white people who are employed falling by 1.1%, while Black people had a 1.6% drop, Asian Americans 1.7%, and Latinos 2.1%.

Long term economic fallout from this crisis will likely hit communities of color hardest, expanding the already-significant racial wealth and income gap in the U.S. Hispanic, Black, and Native American families lost the most in wealth and income during the Great Recession, with homeownership and wealth never fully rebounding for these communities.

Now, the effects of economic downturn will impact communities of color again, both in the long term as well as the short term. In these uncertain times, families, especially families of color, are struggling to stay housed as well as put food on the tables.

For immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants and mixed-status families, the federal government’s response to COVID-19 has left them out. The CARES Act stimulus checks for individuals and families do not accept an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number), which prevents up to 20% of Latinx people from receiving this assistance, according to Orson Aguilar, executive director of UnidosUS Action Fund. NETWORK is advocating for Congress to extend this assistance to taxpayers using ITINs, and to include them in future financial assistance.

Both the short and long-term economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic must be taken seriously, and the racial realities must be addressed to prevent further growth of the racial wealth and income gap.

Escalation of Anti-Asian Racism and Prejudice

Following the emergence and spread of the COVID-19 illness, there has also been a rise in anti-Asian racism in direct words and actions. In the United States, racist incidents have been reported across the country. At the same time, President Trump and his administration have deliberately used incorrect, racist terms to refer to the virus. Using incorrect, racist terms instead of the official name for the virus: COVID-19 or the coronavirus, creates undue hardship and diverts attention and energy that needs to go toward protecting all people from illness and additional suffering.

This anti-Asian racism is not new, but a re-emergence of long-standing racism and xenophobia toward Asian Americans, many of whom have lived in the U.S. for centuries. Now, faith leaders and elected officials, as well as actors and athletes have stepped in to renounce this racism and call our nation to a more just, more inclusive way of being during this difficult time. Anti-Asian racism, whether from an average person or from the President, have no place in our response to this global pandemic.

Serious Risks for Incarcerated and Detained Individuals

Because coronavirus spreads through touching, coughing, and sharing close physical space, the pandemic is wreaking havoc on U.S. prisons and detention centers, where Black, Latinx, and Native American people comprise over 60% of the population. In many prisons, including the Federal Correctional Complex in Oakdale, Louisiana, administrators have not released people or implemented social distancing measures, putting incarcerated people at considerable risk of contracting COVID-19. Such inaction, combined with already widespread medical neglect and unsanitary conditions, caused hundreds of incarcerated people across the country to contract and die from coronavirus in March and April.

As of early April, in federal prisons, seven inmates have died of COVID-19, and almost 200 more inmates, as well as 63 staff, have been infected. Migrants detained in San Diego’s Otay Mesa Detention Center feel particularly afraid of dying from coronavirus-related medical negligence, citing lack of testing kits and soap, according to Buzzfeed News.

Disturbed that COVID-19 is exacerbating already unsafe medical conditions, incarcerated people and their allies are organizing for freedom, justice, and safety. In Michigan and Arizona, hundreds of cars rallied outside of prisons, demanding the immediate release of every incarcerated person. In Illinois, Pennsylvania, and California, incarcerated people and detained migrants launched hunger strikes to advocate for their release from medically unsanitary conditions. Thankfully, some of these activists have won victories. After a staffer at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility in Massachusetts possibly contracted COVID-19, Mario Rodas Sr., an incarcerated migrant, worked with the ACLU to secure his release. The ACLU is litigating similar cases in Maryland, California, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

Additional Reading:

To learn more about the impact of the coronavirus on communities of color, we recommend the following:

Stop Blaming Black People for Dying of the Coronavirus
By Ibram X. Kendi published in the Atlantic April 14, 2020

4 reasons coronavirus is hitting Black communities so hard
By Eugene Scott, published in the Washington Post April 10, 2020

Latinos disproportionately dying, losing jobs because of the coronavirus: ‘Something has to change’
By Marco della Cava, published in USA Today April 18, 2020

How the coronavirus is surfacing America’s deep-seated anti-Asian biases
By Li Zhou, published in Vox April 21, 2020

The Economic Fallout of the Coronavirus for People of Color
By Connor Maxwell and Danyelle Solomon at the Center for American Progress, April 14, 2020

Mass incarceration could add 100,000 deaths to US coronavirus toll, study finds
By Ed Pilkington, published in the Guardian April 22, 2020