PLBC says state should prioritize COVID-19 focus and funding on longstanding racial and economic divide in communities of color

PHILADELPHIA, May 7 – State Rep. Stephen Kinsey, D-Phila., and members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, today encouraged Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration to not only recognize racial and ethnic groups in coronavirus data but also prioritize funding for black, brown and poor communities hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kinsey, who is chairman of the PLBC, said members of his caucus are increasingly discouraged by the disproportionate number of coronavirus cases and deaths affecting people of color. He said while there have been longstanding racial and economic disparities in health, education and economic development, the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the danger to communities of color worldwide. Pennsylvania, Kinsey said, has the power to do something about it.

In a letter to Wolf, PLBC members highlighted the $3.9 billon the commonwealth is expected to receive from the federal government and urged him to ensure a prioritized portion of the money is invested to address racial disparities in business development, education, health care, housing and environmental remediation made worse by COVID-19.

"Minority owned businesses are suffering to survive, let alone thrive; our schools are struggling to ensure that children have the proper equipment and resources for them to continue learning; and African Americans are dying at a disproportionately higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group due to complications of the coronavirus," the PLBC members wrote to Wolf. "We commend you for creating the COVID-19 Response Task Force for Health Disparity and believe that this is most certainly a step in the right direction, however, we must do more."

“These issues are not new. These inequities didn't appear overnight. The PLBC has been working to address the systemic health, educational, economic, and justice inequities in our commonwealth well before the pandemic,” Rep. Donna Bullock, who is vice chairwoman of the PLBC, added. “We now have to fight even harder to prevent these inequities from becoming any wider or deeper in our communities.”

"As we lay a foundation for recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, we must prioritize addressing the disparities that have long plagued black, brown and poor communities," state Senator Vince Hughes said. "It is clear that our people need change and we believe this can be accomplished through strategic steps and providing resources to important initiatives. This is our chance to signal that we understand the historic challenges our individuals and families are facing. We cannot let this pass by without swift, strong action."

"This proposal represents a leveling of societies playing fields by marginalized communities while also presenting a vibrant vision of the future for all Pennsylvania," state Senator Anthony Williams added.

Specifically, the PLBC is asking the state to prioritize funding in the following areas.

Minority Owned Business: $300 million directed toward efforts to support black and brown owned businesses.

Healthcare: $125 million directed toward testing, tracing and health education in at-risk communities.

Higher Education: $250 million set aside to address student loan debt for borrowers across the state, and $20 million for Pennsylvania's historically black colleges and universities -- $10 million for Cheyney University and $10 million for Lincoln University.

Housing Stabilization: $40 million to help impoverished communities, particularly communities of color, for rental assistance, mortgage assistance and property owner subsidies.

Digital Divide: $20 million directly into resources for children and seniors in black and brown communities to increase access and use of technology in the new digital reality.

Environmental Remediation:  $150 to clean up school buildings, senior housing buildings, public buildings and restaurants to ensure the hazards that have come with COVID-19 are remediated.

"We recognize that there are numerous areas that are in dire need of attention and financial support from our state leaders in Harrisburg,” they wrote. “We cannot stress the importance of you ensuring that there are additional basic education dollars secured through the fair funding formula. And just as importantly, we join you in pushing for additional dollars to support those frontline workers who at low pay, continue to put their personal lives aside for the health, safety and welfare of others across our commonwealth," PLBC members added.

The full letter can be read on the PLBC website.