Press Release

July 22, 2020
Cardin, Menendez Lead Colleagues in Introducing Legislation to Address COVID-19 Racial Disparities
The COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act addresses disparities affecting communities of color during the COVID-19 pandemic

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) led a group of Senate colleagues in introducing the COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color. The bill would require targeted testing, contract tracing, public awareness campaigns and outreach efforts specifically directed at racial and ethnic minority communities and other populations that have been made vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 “COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted communities of color and the Trump administration’s response has failed to address the needs of these vulnerable populations,” said Senator Cardin. “Health disparities for people of color is rooted in systemic racism, racial discrimination, and record-high levels of income inequality. The COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act will ensure that future public health response efforts, including testing, contact tracing, and potential vaccine distributions are tailored for diverse communities. Our bill will help racial and ethnic minorities in the ongoing fight against this pandemic, and will help inform future reform efforts to reverse long-standing systemic racism in medical research, testing and delivery of care.”

“COVID-19 has had a particularly devastating impact on racial minorities across America,” said Senator Menendez. “The fact is black and brown Americans suffer higher rates of chronic disease, inequitable access to health care, fewer economic opportunities, and in some cases real language barriers. Add to that the lack of testing, tracing and education efforts by the Trump Administration targeting communities of color during this pandemic and the impact is deadly. The COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act would create a much needed plan of action specifically designed to address this issue at the federal, state and local levels.”

According to the COVID Racial Data Tracker, the pandemic has a disproportionate impact on communities of color. Nationwide, African Americans are dying from COVID-19 at approximately 2.5 times the rate of white people. American Indian, Alaska Native, Hispanic, and Asian American communities are also facing disproportionate rates of COVID-19.

In New Jersey, 21.3 percent of COVID-19 deaths involve African Americans, although they make up just 14 percent of the state’s population. Hispanics account for 25.7 percent of COVID-19 cases despite making up 20.6 percent of the state’s population.

In Maryland, 40.6 percent of COVID-19 deaths involve African Americans, although they make up 30 percent of the state’s population. Hispanics account 25.9 percent of COVID-19 cases despite making up just 10 percent of the state’s population.

The bill is supported by Families USA, the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA), the National Alliance against Disparities in Patient Health (NADPH) the Friends of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), the National Council of Urban Indian Health (NCUIH) and UnidosUS.

“Families USA thanks Senator Menendez and Senator Cardin for their leadership at such a critical time in our country and for championing health equity. The COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act of 2020 centers the needs of historically marginalized communities who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19,” said Amber A. Hewitt, Ph.D., Director of Health Equity, Families USA. “This bill addresses the need for complete and accurate data collection on COVID-19 health outcomes, to better inform and tailor testing and contact tracing efforts, and eventually equitable distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, which will be dependent upon culturally and linguistically appropriate messaging. This pandemic has not only exacerbated disparities in health and health care outcomes, but also health inequities, which are unjust and avoidable.”

“Latino communities continue to have high rates of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19. NHMA strongly supports the COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act because it will support targeted strategies to reduce health disparities for COVID-19 and future public health emergencies,” said Elena Rios, MD, MSPH, FACP, President & CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association.

“As the impact of COVID-19 health disparities has shown all too well, whether from a public health or an economic perspective, the effect of health disparities is a National crisis,” said Alex J. Carlisle, Ph.D.; Founder, Chair, & CEO, National Alliance against Disparities in Patient Health (NADPH). “By allocating resources to the communities most severely impacted by COVID-19, and the agencies and stakeholders with recognized and demonstrated commitments to serving these communities, the COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act of 2020 provides the National leadership and response needed to help our Nation overcome this crisis.” 

The COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act would:

  • Require the Trump Administration to develop an action plan to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 among racial and ethnic minority, rural, and other vulnerable populations.
  • Require states to revise testing and contact tracing plans to address racial and ethnic minority, rural, and other vulnerable populations experiencing health disparities related to COVID-19.
  • Authorize the development of targeted public awareness campaigns about COVID-19 symptoms, testing, and treatment directed at racial and ethnic minority, rural, and other socially vulnerable populations disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
  • Ensure that federally funded contact-tracing efforts are tailored to the racial and ethnic diversity of local communities.  

Joining Senators Cardin and Menendez as co-sponsors of the legislation are Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ed Markey (D-Ore.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

“COVID-19 has ravaged communities of color in Maryland and throughout our country. This pandemic has laid bare the deep-seated health and socioeconomic inequities that many Black and Latino Americans face and their deadly impacts. As they experience higher rates of COVID-19 and are disproportionately working on the front lines of the COVID response, it is unacceptable that the Trump Administration has no plan to tackle this crisis. Our bill will concentrate resources where they’re needed most and ensure that our response to COVID-19 is tailored to best reach these communities,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“Structural racism continues to plague our country, and its impact can be seen in the pandemic’s disproportionate toll on Black and Latino neighborhoods and in Indian Country,” said Senator Warren. “Addressing the public health impacts of systemic racism must be at the very heart of the federal government’s response to this pandemic, and that starts with quickly passing the COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act.”

“The coronavirus pandemic is a public health and economic crisis without precedent in our lifetimes, and it is abundantly clear that this virus has not only exposed, but also exacerbated, the deep, structural racial inequalities that have been taking the lives and livelihoods of people of color and Black Americans in particular for centuries,” said Senator Booker. “Our bill seeks to create a much-needed national strategy for addressing the deadly disparities exacerbated by COVID-19 and any future public health crises by directing resources that are accessible and responsive to the communities that need them the most.”    

“Growing data on COVID-19 is making one thing clear: communities of color are being disproportionately affected by this pandemic,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “Many are frontline workers who don’t have the luxury of working from home and for those who live in multigenerational homes, social distancing is nearly impossible. We cannot hope to get ahead of the curve without addressing the racial inequities that exist in how COVID-19 spreads and how we respond. This bill does exactly that by developing a different approach to COVID-19 to address the health disparities that exist in our communities.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the grim reality of persistent disparities in our health care system. Nationwide, racial and ethnic minorities have experienced higher rates of infection and worse health outcomes, and in Hawaii, our Pacific Islander community has been disproportionately impacted by the virus,” said Senator Hirono. “This legislation takes important steps to address COVID-19 health disparities with a clear strategy to tailor testing, contact tracing, and outreach to communities of color.”

“COVID-19 has taken a particularly devastating toll on communities of color while the administration has failed at remedying this tragedy,” said Senator Blumenthal. “I’m proud to co-sponsor this legislation to help address existing health disparities which have acutely exacerbated this crisis. This bill will ensure a robust investment in a public health approach tailored to communities of color and help combat deeply-rooted racism in medical research and the health care delivery system, strengthening our public health system for generations to come.”

“Longstanding inequities have caused communities of color to be disproportionately affected by the coronavirus,” said Senator Rosen. “In Nevada, our state’s Latino population is being devastatingly impacted at a higher rate from COVID-19 than any other group. This legislation will help address racial and ethnic health disparities by increasing testing, contact tracing, and outreach to our most affected communities. We must take concrete steps to overcome these health inequalities now and for the future. I will continue working to protect the well-being of all Nevadans.”

“People of color represent 10 percent of New Hampshire’s population, but 25 percent of our COVID-19 cases – and similar health care disparities have existed for far too long,” Senator Hassan said. “I recently spoke with public health leaders in New Hampshire about the racial disparities in health care outcomes and this legislation is a good first step to help address these unacceptable inequities in our health care system.” 

“We’ve seen that communities of color all over the country have been disproportionately affected by this pandemic. In many cases, these disparities have been exacerbated by factors like overrepresentation in front-line jobs, higher rates of chronic health conditions, inequitable access to health care, and bias within the health care system itself. That’s why we need to be doing everything possible to make sure the hardest hit communities have access to the targeted tools they need to respond to the COVID-19 crisis,” said Senator Mark R. Warner.  

The text of the bill can be downloaded here and a one pager here.