Spotlight Exclusives

The Effects of the Coronavirus Outbreak on Marginalized Communities

Spotlight Staff Spotlight Staff, posted on

“This public health crisis has exposed the web of neglect that is so deeply inculcated in our culture, our politics and our economy.” – Camille Busette, Director, Metropolitan Policy Program & Senior Fellow on Economic Studies, Governance Studies

As unemployment claims across the country reach 6.6 million according to the latest official statistics, states are struggling with the historic amount of people who are seeking financial assistance due to a staggering amount of job losses. However, the financial toll seems to be disproportionately affecting vulnerable, low-income communities. Spotlight joined the Brookings Institution webinar “The Effect of the Coronavirus Outbreak on Marginalized Communities” to understand the impact that COVID-19 has had on low-income Americans and what can be done to mitigate the harms caused by the coronavirus.  This webinar was moderated by Rashwan Ray, the David M. Rubenstein Fellow for Governance studies and featured Camille Busette, Director of the Metropolitan Policy Program and Senior Fellow on Economic Studies, Governance Studies, and Makada Henry-Nickie, Fellow for Governance Studies.

As Busette described the short-term harms of COVID-19 on vulnerable communities, she emphasized that this public health crisis impacts low-income people from both a health standpoint as well as a financial standpoint. “Middle- and upper- class Americans can self-isolate, which might not possible for low-income Americans who often live in densely populated housing. These same people also can’t work from home,” Busette explained. She also highlighted that people living in rural areas without adequate health systems may have a difficult time receiving a COVID-19 test request from a qualified health professional. As for people living in urban areas and are considered essential workers, they need safe public transportation in order to go to work and keep their job. Additionally, Busette underlined the importance of providing protection equipment for low-income workers who are classified as essential workers, including grocery store employees. She added that corporations should also be required by law to implement health safeguards for low-wage workers.

Although Busette and Henry-Nickie reiterated that COVID-19 impacts everyone regardless of race, class, or economic status, they reminded viewers that certain cities with a high number of COVID-19 cases also have a large population of African Americans. Therefore, Busette argued that there needs to be a method to collect data on how the coronavirus has impacted such communities and others with high concentrations of ethnic or racial minorities. “In the instance that Congress is debating more relief packages in the future, they will need data to understand where the devastation has been the greatest,” she said. Henry-Nickie agreed, adding that such data collection should be limited to account for the safety of people’s information and only be used to respond to the pandemic.

The speakers also discussed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). According to Busette, there are currently 8 million people in America without a Social Security number who are not eligible for relief aid under the CARES Act. Henry-Nickie believes that the bill provided millions of people with a stronger safety net, but expressed concerns about the temporary nature of the aid. “The CARES Act is bold, it’s innovative, it will touch almost every crucial element of a social safety net that we need it to touch. Will it provide 100% coverage? It will not.” Henry-Nickie added that many people will permanently lose their jobs without having any financial support to fall back on. She also warned of system stresses caused by the temporary safety net, including state governments’ inability to effectively distribute unemployment insurance and the possibility that they will need to make cuts to their budgets, including in education and other social safety nets.

COVID-19 has also caused 124,000 schools around the country to close, forcing 55 million students to be home schooled or attend online classes. Henry-Nickie states that the closures have made it so that “a student’s zip code will now become the most powerful indicator of how well they can perform.” She also explained that COVID-19’s impact on students is exacerbated by the digital divide that inhibits students from accessing online classes and perform as they could in a regular school setting. Henry-Nickie also explained that historically black colleges and universities are at risk of closure. Since 75% of HBCU students receive federal Pell grants, she warned that enrollment in HBCUs could drop significantly in the fall as more students decide to delay their education to help their families.

Henry-Nickie recommended several system changes:

  • Forgivable and 0% interest Small Business Administration loans to businesses within vulnerable communities.
  • Freezing all pending and future eviction notices through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • Federal legislation that stops credit bureaus from sending any negative information on credit reports.
  • Federal legislation that freezes the interest rates on credit cards and installment loans.

Busette and Henry-Nickie advocated that despite COVID-19 causing the country to prioritize its resources, the needs of vulnerable communities should be at the forefront.

The webinar recording can be viewed here.

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