BUILD Initiative Blog | Equity and the Pandemic: States, Funders,
Strong Foundations For Our Youngest Children

BUILDing Strong Foundations

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By Ruth Trombka, Editor and Writer
The BUILD Initiative

In the US, the coronavirus pandemic is laying bare our country’s rampant, institutionalized implicit bias and racism. As it puts a focus on the gaps that exist – by income, race/ethnicity, language, and culture -- it reveals underserved populations that are most challenged when we as a nation are instructed to stay home, avoid crowds, and even just wash our hands. As a recent US News and World Report article noted,

For millions of homeless, low-income, or disabled people…running water can be a luxury, remote work isn't an option and social distancing in a shelter or densely packed public housing is next to impossible. Never mind the difficulty of self-isolation or getting medical care for coronavirus concerns.

While we at the BUILD Initiative are grateful for the $2 trillion federal aid package announced yesterday, we regret that there will be little in it to help many of those who need it most, including  Black, Brown, and Native American low-wage workers in areas of limited opportunity, the over 180,000 homeless families with children, and many of those who are on public assistance, which includes 45 percent of African Americans, 41 percent of Native Americans, and 32 percent of Hispanics or Latinos – as compared to 15 percent of Whites. It is for these and other marginalized populations – those who are most invisible, forgotten, or ignored -- that we must tailor resources.

Greater Vulnerability to the Virus

The BUILD Initiative encourages states to adhere to system-building principles that include a focus on the whole child, centering children and families within the work to improve system policy, program, and practice and leading with racial equity to assure underserved populations can access services and supports they need. We know that young children’s well-being depends on the health and well-being of the adults in their lives. What happens when parents and caregivers in these vulnerable groups contract the virus? As noted in the New York Times on March 7, before the outbreak was deemed a pandemic: 

Many public health experts now fear a potentially dire situation. If the novel coronavirus becomes an epidemic in the United States, it could exacerbate the vulnerabilities of resource-strapped minorities and cause devastating consequences…Not only would the disproportionately high rates of disease and illness among those populations make them particularly vulnerable if infected by the virus, but living in dense apartment buildings and using public transportation can also increase the risk of transmission. There is also the issue of distrust, especially among African-Americans, of a medical system with a history of mistreating and exploiting them.

Many Simply Cannot Work from Home

For many of those fortunate enough to have a job, working from home, even during a public health crisis, is not a viable option  – and it’s a directive that underscores a split in this country along racial and educational lines. As noted in a recent Washington Post article:

Thirty-seven percent of Asian Americans and 30 percent of whites said they could work remotely. But only 20 percent of African Americans and 16 percent of Hispanics said they had that ability. Almost 52 percent of those with a college education or higher said they could work from home, but only 4 percent of those with less than a high school diploma said they could.

Those who work in service industries have to show up to their jobs. As pointed out on spotlightonpoverty.org, fast food restaurant workers, providers of home visiting services, and others have a “much lower rate of job-protected sick leave…[this] means that they have to choose between going to work sick and not complying with social distancing recommendations or losing wages to be able to stay home.”

Colorofchange.org states that after years of Congress not passing paid sick leave legislation, we are left with a crisis in which “disproportionately minority low-wage workers are continuing to support the public without the health insurance or paid time off that would make us all safer.”

Challenges for the Homeless – and Those who have Recently Escaped Homelessness

The precariousness the pandemic poses for so many is illustrated by the stories of Kelly Braswell, a single mother of two young children who recently lifted herself out of homelessness, and Chyna Cain, whose family just got stable housing a month ago:

…last week, Braswell’s primary job ― working as a hostess at Olive Garden ― stopped giving her hours. Two days later, her children’s day care closed, making it impossible for her to get the child care necessary to work her second job cleaning buildings. Her carefully regimented routine suddenly came crashing down with overwhelming force. “It’s like it all got burned down,” she said.

Last Thursday, Cain’s job put her on temporary leave. Her husband, who works washing linens for hospitals, has also seen his hours cut…Cain has already picked up another job, driving cabs for 12 hours a day, to try and make up for the lost wages. Nearly no one she’s driven around, she says, is concerned about their health. Everyone is concerned about losing their jobs. “I know the virus is a very real thing. But so is my rent and my light bill. So that’s really what’s stressing me out,” she said. 

We think these are choices that cannot be made and should not have to be made.

Lack of Child Care

For parents who have infants and toddlers in child care, and who must show up to work, where are they to leave them when their child care sites are told to shut their doors? In fact, according to The Hill.com, “Child care has lost about 70 percent of daily attendance, and providers may have only a week until they have to close, in some cases permanently.” The child care industry called on Congress to include $50 billion in relief in its third stimulus package to support the industry in withstanding this challenge. But we also must consider the children who weren’t in child care before the onset of the pandemic -- 52 percent of infants and toddlers nationwide. For many of these families, child care was not available before this crisis. It would be ideal if we could take this opportunity, after the pandemic has passed, to not return to that previous state but rather consider the hardship on those who were disconnected before and build solutions that keep them connected in the future.

Strategies that May Benefit Marginalized Populations

Some tailored solutions to help the most vulnerable children, families, and communities include the following:

  1. Put evictions on hold, as these states have done.
  2. Help businesses undergoing economic stress by preventing or minimizing the duration of unemployment resulting from layoffs, as Maryland’s Covid-19 Aversion Fund does.
  3. Urge Congress to immediately pass the Healthy Families Act, which has a provision for public health emergencies that would provide all workers with paid sick time and ensure employers keep their jobs open for the duration of any virus-related time missed from work.
  4. Urge Congress to acknowledge the necessity of emergency paid leave funds for people to be able to comply with social distancing in this acute crisis. 
  5. Extend the food stamps program. 
  6. Increase the childcare subsidy that people get through their federal and state taxes. 
  7. Some municipalities and states do have paid sick leave laws on the books – California and New York City, for example. These laws could be strengthened and widened. 
  8. Suspend the Public Charge rule and the threat of ICE detentions and deportations that may inhibit many undocumented immigrants from seeking care and support.
  9. Urge state and local governments to help small employers, who are also going to be disproportionately impacted. Give them access to emergency funds as well, or some kind of tax relief, if they can show how they supported their workers in complying with recommendations.
Read more about Human Impact Partners' solutions (numbers 3-9) here.

We will not all be safe until the most vulnerable among us are safe. To protect marginalized populations, work has to happen at multiple levels. We encourage mayors, states leaders, and early childhood advocates and funders to seek solutions during this public health crisis that will ensure the well-being of each and every child, family, and community. Service providers such as home visitors and WIC representatives should not only consider those they are servicing, but those who did not have access before the crisis. We also urge representatives of the various systems – child care, nutrition, housing, and child welfare – to make every effort to work together during this time; that is, push back against the silos particularly as we work alone, from our homes. The value of working together, maximizing resources, and aligning or coordinating supports is more important than ever.

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