Rep. Hank Johnson’s (GA-04) comments to the Ga. Legislative Black Caucus Town Hall on May 5, 2020

May 6, 2020
Speech

Thank you for all that you do as leaders of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus – you are on the frontlines of helping us through this pandemic – and I’m honored to join this evening for this important call.

Brothers and sisters, we are living in unprecedented times for everyone alive today. Not one of us has lived through a global pandemic of the proportions of the Covid-19 pandemic that we face today. It has devastated lives and communities across the country. And while these times are unprecedented, something remain the same. The old adage-that when white folks catch a cold, black folks catch pneumonia –remains true. But the adage hits home more deeply when we recognize that, when white folks catch pneumonia, black folks catch COVID. And that adage applies to health outcomes and economic wellbeing.

All the inequities and disparities that existed before COVID are now magnified by this pandemic in ways never before recognized.

As of today, there are 29,623 COVID-19 cases identified in Georgia right now with more than 1,279 deaths.

A new CDC study revealed more than 80% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Georgia were African Americans. And this study backs up others that show black Americans are more likely to be infected by this disease.

But it’s difficult to get a complete picture because Georgia stopped reporting COVID-19 deaths by race last week. The last report I saw documented that 54% of Georgia deaths from Covid-19 were African Americans. We are 32% of the population but we are the majority of the deaths! This fact weighs heavy on my conscience as Georgia has seen fit to open businesses back up, starting with barber shops and beauty parlors, which are staples in the Black community. Why didn’t they reopen the gun shops and the gun shows? At any rate, reopening for business here in Georgia appears to be causing what looks to be the beginning of another spike in cases in our state.

It’s troubling to me that with data collection having been curtailed, our Georgia elected officials are unwilling to assess with precision the people most at risk, and where testing and treatment should be concentrated. How can you address the spread of Covid-19 without addressing racial equity issues, which if allowed to persist will certainly lead to increased infections and deaths throughout Georgia? To paraphrase Dr. King: A Covid-19 infection anywhere is a threat to everyone else everywhere. But our governor doesn’t appear to be acting on this truth.

On that somber note, I’m here to outline what Congress has done and what we’re continuing to work towards to bring more relief to our communities.

House Democrats took the first step in early March, passing a bipartisan emergency response funding package of $8.3 billion of entirely new funds — focused critically on testing. Testing is fundamental to controlling the spread of Covid-19, and 2 weeks ago Congress passed a CBC priority in a supplemental bill that appropriated $25 billion more for testing. Money was allocated so that mobile testing could be done-going to hot spots in our communities rather than asking people to travel long distances to get tested.

We moved quickly to follow up by passing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to ensure free coronavirus testing for everyone who needs it, including the uninsured. It also provides two weeks of paid sick leave, up to three months of family and medical leave for some eligible workers and enhanced unemployment insurance. This bill also prioritized funding for nutrition initiatives including SNAP, student meals, seniors’ meals and food banks.

Then we passed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act on March 27, which provided $1.3 billion to community health centers, which are where many Black people without health insurance receive the medical that they need but can’t afford. The CARES Act expanded unemployment benefits to include the self-employed and to independent contractors, many of whom are Black, it provided for immediate direct cash payments to many Americans, including Black people, and more than $375 billion in small business relief, $200 billion for hospitals, $25 billion to transit agencies, $2 billion for HUD emergency solution grants, and hundreds of millions for additional support to state and local law enforcement agencies that helped them obtain the personal protective equipment and other medical items they may need during this public health emergency. Georgia law enforcement agencies received $25 million for this purpose.

It also provided $400 million for election assistance grants for states to help prepare for the 2020 elections. Georgia received $10 million for these purposes.

And then in April, the House passed a supplemental emergency funding package that strengthened the Paycheck Protection Program with $310 billion in additional funding, including $30 billion for small banks, credit unions and minority lending institutions, and an additional $30 billion for medium sized banks and credit unions, with the goal that much of this $60 billion would be accessed by minority-owned businesses after many struggled to get help under the first go-around of PPP.

And just a quick note, our schools have also received emergency funds from Congress – more than $400 billion is coming to our public schools in Georgia, including more than $33 million for DeKalb, more than $32 million for Gwinnett, $22 million for APS and $18 million for Fulton public schools.

As we move forward, CARES 2 must provide strong support for our essential workers – so many of whom are African Americans -- so that they can get paid and protected with PPE.  We also must increase SNAP funding and pension support and add more unemployment insurance and direct payments for those who are struggling. Also, an aid package for state and local governments must be included in the next spending package.

Real quick since I’m running out of time, here are a few things the CBC is now focusing on:

  1. Concentrated testing in areas where the death rate is disproportionately African American or areas with large populations of African Americans;
  2. Contact tracing to identify other people who are potentially affected or exposed;
  3. Rapid response testing and all the necessary equipment for faster test results;
  4. Access to free Personal Protective Equipment for “essential workers,” who are disproportionately Black;
  5. Complete data beyond death statistics, including infection rate, hospitalizations, level of hospitalization, recovery rate, and prognosis;
  6. Resources for community- and faith-based organizations to carry out public education campaigns; and
  7. Federal Partnership with HBCU’s, PBI’s, and non-profits.

We are fighting for a long-term comprehensive strategy to address underlying health issues and disparities and full funding for the Office of Minority Health – a mission I spearhead every year during the federal appropriations process.

I know I’ve gone a little over my time but there’s a lot to cover. I want you to know that my door is always open to you and if my office can assist you in anyway, we will. Thank you.

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