With more than 23 million disproportionately black and brown workers unemployed and public health data showing African Americans, Latinx, and Native Americans with COVID-19 infection and death rates two to five times higher than white Americans, it’s clear that our history of racial inequality in the U.S. is still very much a part of our present.

If the disproportionate racial impact of the pandemic continues unabated, we can expect dramatically larger racial disparities in income, wealth, and health: that is, if policymakers do not take appropriate action now.

While many have received some relief through the recovery packages passed by Congress so far, the implementation of these packages has had the unfortunate effect of privileging whites over people of color and the wealthy over everyone else.

For example, the IRS had to figure out a process after the fact of getting stimulus checks to those who did not file income taxes in 2018 or 2019 because the CARES Act overlooked these disproportionately black and brown households whose incomes were lower than the threshold amount required to file taxes.

Similarly, the federal Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan for small businesses included in the CARES Act did not consider how to provide relief for small businesses that do not have traditional mainstream banking relationships; an approach that excluded the vast majority of businesses owned by people of color.

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People of color—whether as business owners, essential workers, or consumers—contribute greatly to the economic productivity of our nation. Our food production and service industries rely heavily on people of color. Latino-owned small businesses employ more than three million people and add $500 billion to the US economy; 20% of African Americans are employed by black-owned businesses. If these sectors and businesses are restored and strengthened, the micro-and macro-economic effects will have multiplier effects on our nation’s economic recovery.

Congress and the White House should work to secure the economic future of these groups by using the 3 + 5 approach: incorporating three overarching values and five essential actions within subsequent stimulus bills and beyond.

Inclusion is the first value that must be front and center. COVID19 demonstrated that we are all connected so we must lift all boats. The second value is equity. Universal policies should include targeted strategies that address the needs of people of color. The final value is fairness. People who have been historically denied must not continue to be overlooked.

Using these values as operating principles, policymakers in Washington must then take five crucial steps, three short-term, and two long-term.

  • Protect health. Since African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos are most at risk of contracting and dying from the virus, these groups must be priority recipients of needed personal protective equipment, testing, tracing, and healthcare supports that facilitate ease of access.
  • Protect income. Automatic payments to all workers regardless of immigration or previous incarceration status, hazard pay to essential workers, and unemployment benefits for all who have lost jobs including single proprietorships will enable families to color to survive the crisis. Income protection also means providing federal funds to state and local governments and to the U.S. Postal Service, both important sources of good jobs for people of color.
  • Protect wealth. Families of color have not yet recovered from the financial strain caused by the housing market collapse—in which they were targeted for unsustainable and irresponsible mortgage products—and the 2008 Great Recession. A moratorium on home foreclosures and adding any principal and interest owed to the back end of a mortgage payment plan would stop the bleeding. A small business loan program that puts money directly in the hands of minority-owned businesses and those businesses without traditional banking relationships would help save the critical small business sector.

The final two steps require longer-term policy changes.

  • Promote health security. Future health crises can be prevented by re-building our public health system and implementing a truly universal and affordable national health insurance program that provides culturally appropriate and quality care for urban, rural, and tribal communities.
  • Promote economic security. Ensure that all families have income and realistic opportunities to build assets so that they are better able to weather future economic storms. A progressive basic income program that is in addition to and not a replacement for an expanded Social Security program, is a viable approach. A federal job guarantee could include a vastly expanded AmeriCorps program for youth and jobs for adults that address a range of public needs. And, asset-building policies like a Baby Bond program that allows children to accumulate assets with interest over time, are doable.

Our nation will be majority-minority within 25 years. It is in the interest of all Americans to embrace a federal investment strategy that prioritizes inclusion, equity, and fairness. The time to begin that strategy is now.

The authors of this article, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, MA, Ph.D., Meizhu Lui, and Jim Carr are members of the Experts of Color Network, a national collective of more than 200 experts from the nonprofit, academic, corporate, and government sectors working to close the racial wealth gap.

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Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, MA, Ph.D., is the former chair of the Maryland Democratic Party and author of the forthcoming book "RAGEISM: Race, Age, Gender, Exclusion, and the Politics of Health Equity" (Routledge Press). She is also the Founder, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Global Policy Solutions LLC, a social change strategy firm, and the Center for Global Policy Solutions, a nonprofit think and action organization. Rockeymoore Cummings has directed successful research and developed advocacy strategies for multiple nonprofit, philanthropic, academic, and corporate clients. In addition, she has written extensively about health and healthcare issues. She was a co-author of the Action Strategies for Healthy Communities Toolkit and has published articles in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the National Association of State Boards of Education’s State Education Standard. Rockeymoore Cummings is currently running for Congress in Maryland’s 7th Congressional District.
Meizhu Lui is a racial and gender equality activist, a former director of the Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Initiative at the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. Prior to joining the Insight Center, Lui was the Executive Director of United for a Fair Economy, a national, nonprofit that works to publicize issues of growing economic inequality, income and wealth disparities, and the persistent economic gap between whites and people of color. She was a kitchen worker and AFSCME activist and was the first Asian woman to become the elected President of a local union in Massachusetts. Her work for racial and gender equality has been recognized by numerous organizations such as the Boston Women’s Fund, the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, and the Labor Studies Program at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. Lui also served on the Center for American Progress Poverty Task Force, which resulted in the Half in Ten Campaign. She co-authored The Color of Wealth: The Story Behind the US Racial Wealth Divide.
Jim Carr is the Coleman A. Young Endowed Chair and Professor in Urban Affairs at Wayne State University, Visiting Fellow with the Roosevelt Institute, and Contributor to Forbes Magazine. Carr is also Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Turquoise Bay Investment Partners, an Expert with the Institute for New Economic Thinking and consultant with the Gerson Lehrman Group, Inc. Previously, Jim served as Senior Fellow with the Center for American Progress. Prior to that, he held the position of Chief Business Officer for the National Community Reinvestment Coalition where he established and managed minority- and women-owned business centers in Washington, DC, New York, NY, and Houston, TX, that assisted their clients to access $1.8 billion in capital and $350 million in federal contracts. Jim also held the position of Senior Vice President for Financial Innovation, Planning, and Research for the Fannie Mae Foundation where he built one of the nation’s most prestigious housing and urban policy research centers that attracted subscribers for its research and policy publications from more than 30 countries. Carr also served as Assistant Director for Tax Policy and Federal Credit with the U.S. Senate Budget Committee.