By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
An update by Ethnic Media Services on April 8 stressed the lack of information on impacts on COVID-19 on minority communities.
In figures released by L.A. County on April 17, of the 390 deaths for which race information is available, 33% were Latinx, 31% were white, 17% were Asian and 16% were black, with 3% listing some other ethnicity.
“We are working with our community partners to respond to the disproportionate number of deaths among African Americans,” said Barbara Ferrer, director of the county Department of Public Health. “This includes addressing issues related to access to testing, health services and accurate information about COVID-19.”
Ferrer conceded that while testing has been increasing across the county, data indicates that wealthier communities have much better access to the tests.
A range of experts stressed the importance of making sure medical treatment is accessible to minority and immigrant populations and data gathering in the fight against COVID-19.
Dr. Tung Nguyen of UC San Francisco pointed to areas such as Louisiana and Chicago, where there have been high death rates among African Americans.
“There are some stark and alarming disparities,” Nguyen said. “The data on race and ethnicity has been poor. New York and California are not reporting race data. I wouldn’t be shocked if those disparities are spread across the board.”
Dr. Stacie Walton said while she was expecting African Americans to be more impacted by the virus, the extent of the severity has been shocking.
“When COVID came on the scene, it was clear to me that we were going to have a disproportionate amount of deaths in the African American community. I didn’t expect the numbers we are seeing,” Walton said.
She cited historic traumas that have meant African Americans mistrust the health system, and also tend to have overall poor health and chronic diseases such as diabetes.
“If you are poor in this country and do not have the ability to pay for medications, you will have chronic diseases that will kill you because they go untreated,” Walton stated.
“Our brains are wired for bias. Within the medical community we have bias too,” she added. “They are born in our behavior, diagnosis and treatment of patients. This leads us to make mistakes — mistakes that kill people.”
Sunita Lough, Internal Revenue Service deputy commissioner for services and enforcement, offered some insight on the $1,200 stimulus payments that are starting to be sent. The first payments will go to those who’ve already filed their 2018 or 2019 tax returns and authorized the IRS to make a direct deposit if they were due a refund.
“For individuals who have provided direct deposit information to the IRS, they will receive the payment directly into their bank accounts,” Lough said. “For those [for whom]we do not have direct deposit information, we will issue a paper check, but they take a long time.”
She directed people to visit a new online app called Get My Payment, which can be used to check on the status of your money.
She also urged everyone to beware of scammers.
“Watch out … There are scams and fraudsters out there right now. DO NOT give your information to someone saying they can get the payment from the IRS for you,” Lough said.
Congress is currently working on another round of economic stimulus. Kerri Talbot, director of Federal Advocacy for the Immigration Hub, explained that they hope the next round of stimulus payments will include more relief for immigrants, those with temporary status, undocumented and families that include both American citizens and undocumented.
“The bills passed so far have not provided enough help for immigrants, including those who have DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). We’re concerned that people will not have access to healthcare because they are not covered by emergency Medicaid,” Talbot said.
“People who are born here should have access to cash payment. So many are doing essential services — healthcare workers, farm workers — they need to make sure they are able to pay their rent and stay in their homes.”
The Hub, which fights for social change, is composed of a team of former congressional staff and executive branch officials and immigration policy advocates with deep roots in advocacy and communications and decades of collective experience.
Sebastian Sanchez, an employment attorney with Bet Tzedek, explained the process of filing for unemployment. Since last month, a record 22 million have applied for unemployment benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
“Unemployment insurance is federally funded and granted through states,” Sanchez said. “To be eligible, you have to have left your job through no fault of your own. If voluntary, you have to have had good cause. You have to be available to work and are looking for work.
“The governor waived the requirement to seek work for those employees that expect to return to the employer that shut down or furloughed them due to COVID-19. But for those that do not have any guarantee that they will return to work, they will have to continue seeking work. Despite the shelter-in-place order, some companies continue to hire, including essential businesses.”