July 29, 2020

Van Hollen, Cardin Introduce Senate Resolution Declaring Racism a Public Health Crisis

Resolution Recognizes that Role of Race in Health Disparities Especially Important During COVID-19 Pandemic

U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin (both D-MD), along with Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Kamala Harris (D-CA) have introduced a Senate Resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. The coronavirus pandemic has underscored the racial disparities that continue to pervade public health as a direct result of systemic racism. Barriers to quality health care access, housing, jobs, wages and so much else contribute to stark health disparities for communities of color. This virus has proven especially lethal for those communities – the infection, hospitalization, and mortality rates are disproportionately high among Black, Latino, and AI/AN populations. In Maryland, for the 66,200 COVID-19 cases that have race and ethnicity data available, more than 35% of patients are Black and Black residents comprise nearly 41% of COVID-related deaths, despite the fact that African Americans only make up 30% of the state’s population. Similarly, despite only comprising 10% of the State’s population, Hispanic Marylanders make up nearly 31% of positive COVID-19 cases. 

“In Maryland, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Black and Latino communities hardest. The pandemic has shone a harsh light on the deep, systemic inequities that make communities of color more vulnerable to exposure and more acutely impacted by its effects. Racial health disparities were a pervasive problem before COVID-19 hit and they have been exacerbated by the current crisis. We must address the structural and systemic issues that result in these racial disparities. At its root, we must demand equity and justice and this resolution is an important step in that direction.” said Senator Van Hollen.

“Long-standing systemic racism in health care and socioeconomic disparities have left Black and Latino communities more vulnerable to COVID-19 and prevented access to life-saving care and treatment,” said Senator Cardin. “To achieve health equity and to combat this pandemic, it is critical that we remove the barriers that contribute to unequal health outcomes for communities of color and ensure all Americans can access the care they deserve.”

“We will not make progress until we acknowledge and address all of the ways that centuries of racism and oppression have harmed Black and brown Americans,” said Senator Brown. “This resolution is an important step toward recognizing the racial disparities in healthcare that have existed for far too long while also outlining concrete action we can take now to help reverse them. Though this resolution is not a solution in and of itself, it will help to lay the foundation for change that is continually subverted by and for the status quo. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this important resolution.”

“For too long, communities of color have suffered disproportionately from countless illnesses and conditions, from maternal and infant mortality to now COVID-19,” said Senator Booker. “These health inequities are the direct result of centuries of racist policy that have disenfranchised, disinvested, and disrespected Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color. Declaring racism a public health crisis is a small, but necessary, step toward addressing the deep-rooted and systemic inequities that have created and continue to exacerbate unfair and unjust health outcomes and enabling us to finally move forward in creating a truly equitable health care system for all.”  

“COVID-19 has caused a public health crisis that is disproportionately impacting people of color. In fact, available data shows that African American and Latinx people are three times as likely to get sick with the virus; and nearly twice as likely to die,” said Senator Harris. “This is, in part, due to long-standing barriers to care that are rooted in generations of systemic racism. This resolution affirms Congress’ commitment to fully acknowledge and address racial inequities and injustice across all sectors.”

The resolution acknowledges the history of racism and discrimination within health care and the systemic barriers that people of color continue to face when seeking care. The resolution also highlights the effects of systemic racism on the health and wellness of communities of color, resulting in shorter life expectancy, worsened health outcomes, and enhanced exposure to harmful or dangerous environments. This resolution encourages concrete action to address health disparities and inequity across all sectors in society. 

Along with Senators Van Hollen, Cardin, Brown, Booker, and Harris, the resolution was cosponsored by Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Tom Carper (D-DE), Edward Markey (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tina Smith (D-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Robert Casey (D-PA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Angus King (I-ME). Representative Jahana Hayes (D-CT) will introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

The full text of the resolution is available here.

Supporting Organizations Include:

AAPCHO, Advocates for Youth, African Communities Together, Alliance for Aging Research, Alliance for Justice, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College Nurse Mid-wives, American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (ACOG), American Forests, American Muslim Health Professionals, American Public  Health Association (APHA), American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), America’s Essential Hospitals, Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, Association for Women in Psychology, Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network, Black Mammas Matter Alliance, Black Women’s Health Imperative, Center for American Progress, Center for Earth, Energy, and Democracy (CEED), Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, Center for Responsible Lending, Community Catalyst, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Health Equity Collaborative, Hispanic Federation, HIV Medicine Association, Howard University, Human Impact Partners, Human Rights Watch, Indivisible, League of Conservation Voters, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Maryland National Organization for Women, Morehouse School of Medicine, National Association of Social Workers, National Birth Equity Collaborative, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, National Employment Law Project, National Health Law Program, National Immigrant Center, National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, National Medical Association, National Organization for Women, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, National Urban League, National Women’s Political Caucus, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Next100, People’s Action, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Race Equity Project, Service employees International Union, Shriver Center on Poverty Law, The Fair Housing Resource Center, Trust for America’s Health, UnidosUS, Union of Concerned Scientists, Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice, United Negro College Fund, United Parents Against Lead & Other Environmental Hazards.