December 10, 2020

At Warren, Pressley Request, Independent Watchdog Agrees to Investigate Racial Inequity in Pandemic Response

Response from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) here

Lawmakers Initial Request here

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, released the following statement regarding GAO approving their request to investigate how COVID-19 relief funds have been distributed to disproportionately affected communities.

"Decades of structural racism have hindered the ability of communities of color to get ahead, and right now, Black and Brown people are some of the hardest hit by these economic and public health crises. The GAO's agreement to investigate inequities in the distribution of COVID-19 relief funds is a critical step to help ensure that communities that are most affected by this pandemic have the resources they need to address these crises head-on," said the lawmakers. 

The coronavirus pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color and Indigenous communities. Black, Hispanic/Latino, and American Indian/Alaska Native people are being hospitalized with and dying from COVID-19 at higher rates and are dying from COVID-19 at younger ages. People living on tribal lands are more than four times as likely to have been diagnosed with COVID-19 as the U.S. population as a whole. The same communities have also been hit hardest by the economic fallout: every month since the economic crisis began in March 2020, Black and Latino workers have had significantly higher unemployment rates than white workers, even after adjusting for age and education status.

To date, the federal government has spent trillions of dollars to sustain the health system and mitigate the economic fallout during this public health emergency. However, it is not clear whether that relief has successfully reached the communities that are most in need. A survey of Black and Latino business owners found that only 12% of those who applied for a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program and other federal relief programs were approved for the full amount, and half expected their businesses to permanently close within six months.

In health care, a study of the Provider Relief Fund found that hospitals with the most revenue from private insurance received more than twice as much funding per hospital bed as the hospitals with the least private insurance revenue - raising the question of whether funds truly reached health care providers serving communities that are most in need. COVID-19 testing may also be harder to obtain for people of color: one analysis found that testing sites located in predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods of major cities face higher demand than those in predominantly white areas of those same cities, leading to longer wait times. Independent analyses have found that ZIP codes with large white populations have had more testing sites throughout the pandemic than ZIP codes with more people of color, and 35 percent of rural Black Americans live in a "highly vulnerable testing desert."

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Senator Warren has been pushing for health equity in the federal pandemic response and for transparent information on racial equity. 

  • In August, Senator Warren and Congresswoman Pressley introduced bicameral legislation, the Corrections Data Transparency Act, to require the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the United States Marshals Service, and state governments to collect and publicly report detailed data about COVID-19 in federal, state, and local correctional facilities.
  • Senator Warren and Congresswoman Pressley introduced the bicameral Equitable Data Collection and Disclosure on COVID-19 Act to require the federal government to collect and report coronavirus demographic data on race and ethnicity.
  • In March, the lawmakers wrote to Health & Human Services Secretary Azar urging the agency to collect racial and ethnic demographic data on COVID-19 testing and treatment.