Biden nominees break down American Rescue Plan’s impact on Black communities

EXCLUSIVE: theGrio joins call with COVID-19 Equity Task Force Chair Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith and CEA Chair Cecilia Rouse

Left to right: COVID-19 Equity Task Force Chair Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith and CEA Chair Cecilia Rouse (Photo: Getty Images)

I recently sat in on a call with the Biden administration’s COVID-19 Equity Task Force Chair Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith and nominee for Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) Chair Cecilia Rouse. The discussion centered on the American Rescue Plan and President-Elect Joe Biden’s commitment to providing immediate, direct relief to communities of color who are bearing the brunt of this crisis. 

The overview of the American rescue plan is to provide immediate relief to communities of color. Cecilia Rouse shared some thoughts on the need for an equitable response to COVID-19. This crisis has placed working Americans at a crossroads — battling the pandemic and also supporting their families as people of color are already struggling with 1 in 10 Blacks and 1 in 11 Latinos have filed for unemployment.

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President-Elect Biden has a plan to deal with the pandemic and bridge the gap for economic and racial equity. First, $2,000 direct support to struggling Americans. Second, extend and expand unemployment insurance benefits. Biden plans to extend $400/week through September to provide more assistance, extend unemployment to 8 million workers who haven’t previously qualified. Third, call on Congress to prevent evictions.

President-Elect Biden Introduces Members Of His Incoming Economic Team
U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris looks on as U.S. President-elect Joe Biden. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Biden plan features $35 billion in emergency rental assistance to keep people in their homes and pay back rent. Fourth, provide food security for families and children by increasing SNAP benefits through September 2021. And lastly, expand childcare assistance and help child care providers by investing $25 billion in stabilizing the child care sector for Black, Latinx, and AAPI women.

In addition, the Biden administration also plans to increase tax credits for childcare for one year. In essence, much of the plan addresses food and financial security in order to cut child poverty in half for Black, Latinx, AAPI, and Native families. These are just the first steps in staying true to the promise of “Building America back better.”

Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith then addressed the need for a COVID-19 response. She stressed that earlier this week 4,000 Americans died in a single day. Healthcare workers are overwhelmed and hospital beds overflowing.  Deaths and illnesses from COVID-19 have had a disproportionate impact on communities of color because of structural racism leading to people of color contracting and dying from COVID-19 at higher rates than the white population.

Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith
(Credit: Yale University)

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The incoming Biden administration is ensuring equitable distribution of vaccine and supplies. Currently, the Trump administration has no federal strategy in place in any way, let alone an equitable one. Therefore, it is imperative for the Biden administration to address the racial inequities of COVID contraction and vaccination distribution on day one of his administration.

On Jan. 20, Biden has promised the full resources of the federal government in order to get the vaccine in the arms of people who need it. The plan is to educate and vaccinate all Americans. Part of the plan is the development of community vaccination centers for the hardest-hit populations, health services for the underserved, and community investment for the expansion of COVID treatment and care. In addition, assistance to pharmacies is imperative for the Biden plan to work as well as addressing the issue of pharmacy deserts in communities of color. 

The Biden administration plans a historic investment in healthcare workers to deliver culturally competent care. Vaccine outreach and contact tracing are key elements of this success. In addition, protecting front line workers, who are disproportionately people of color, by ensuring emergency response assistance with gear and gloves are provided. 

A healthcare worker administers the COVID-19 vaccine to a resident living in the Jackson Heights neighborhood at St. Johns Missionary Baptist Church on January 10, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

An additional goal is to mitigate racial inequity and expand pay leave access especially for workers of color. Lastly — and this is key — the Biden administration will not leave out those Americans in prisons and jails. The incarcerated are currently living in superspreader sites and the incoming administration plans to provide $9 billion in an emergency intervention.

This plan was developed in consultation with top advisors with equity in the forefront. The Biden administration aims to address broader systemic problems that create inequities and continue to assess racial inequities with the ultimate goal of ending the pandemic and addressing health barriers. 

Some additional questions to Nunez-Smith and Rouse pertained to how this plan will apply to mixed status families. Their response? The bottom line from the Biden administration is that everyone needs access to vaccination. They point out that President-Elect Biden has been clear about his commitment to testing as well. The plan as it stands right now has a commitment to privacy (not going to ICE for anyone who has been tested or vaccinated) and being intentional about how the system will be set up.

Biden has handpicked labor economist Cecilia Rouse, the dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, to be the chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers, according to reporting from The Wall Street Journal.

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The vaccine is free and the administration must make sure there are no out-of-pocket costs. The Biden plan includes funding for the uninsured. There must be a commitment to provide a safety net for communities of color. Ultimately, the strategy behind this plan is about containing the virus and bringing back economic health that benefits everyone.

There is a concern that some frontline workers are declining the vaccine which is leading to a slower rollout. The Biden administration recognizes those who are at high risk and to delve deeper into what’s driving their hesitancy and recognizing that the hesitancy is not the same across the different roles in the healthcare system. Second, address the concerns regarding the loss of wages associated with taking time off to take the vaccine. And lastly, empowering healthcare workers since many are the most trusted messengers in their respective communities. Biden and his administration are anxious to work in partnership to answer questions for the hardest-hit communities. 

When asked how this plan will assist Black people specifically, they acknowledged the need to go deep on partnerships within the Black community to address Black skepticism regarding the federal government and the scientific community and acknowledge the reality and provide the necessary information people need to know, the degree of representation in the trials for vaccine, the diversity of perspective, the process of vaccine development, and the massive deployment of the vaccine and providing context so Blacks do not feel like a targeted group for experimentation.

The incoming administration also recognizes they must be humble and listen to communities and work with trusted messengers (doctors, scientists, healthcare workers, faith leaders, and community leaders) and commit resources to a strategy that begins to rebuild trust in the vaccine and vaccination campaign. 

Appearing via video link, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, President-elect Joe Biden’s choice to chair his COVID-19 equity task force, speaks during a news conference with Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris at the Queen Theater December 08, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

There is a commitment by the administration to engage in evidence-based decision making and to be transparent and accountable. Joe Biden has affirmed that he believes in facts and plans to focus on data and share that data with the American people so we all understand what is going on and trust can be rebuilt. Nunez-Smith and Rouse stressed the need to rebuild trust, so when the Biden administration develops policies we pay attention to the way those policies impact different groups so we can rebuild trust and move forward.

Lastly, the issue of Black college millennials and student loan forgiveness was brought up. Pausing student loan payments as we get through pandemic and canceling $10,000 debt per person is a priority. Biden plans to call on Congress to draft a proposal to do so. Debt relief is important and Biden wants to work with Congress to make that happen.

Christina Greer

Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, political editor at The Grio, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream”, and the co-host of The Grio podcast What’s In It For Us. You can find her at @Dr_CMGreer on Twitter and Instagram.

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