Congress must prioritize access to health care and resources for communities most impacted by coronavirus
For Immediate Release
April 23, 2020
Contact: Zach Eisenstein
Phone: (202) 265-2405 ext 3330
(Washington, DC) – On Tuesday, the Senate passed a $484 billion coronavirus relief package to provide aid to small businesses and hospitals amid the coronavirus pandemic. The House is expected to vote on the package later today. Christine Soyong Harley, SIECUS’ President & CEO, released the following statement in response:
“While legislators have been furiously debating a new relief package to help the country respond to the coronavirus pandemic, these efforts continue to ignore already marginalized groups that our government and health care systems have been failing long before this pandemic hit.
As an organization dedicated to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights in this country, we know that young people, LGBTQ+ folks, communities of color, and low-income families already face a variety of health disparities and barriers to accessing health care services. We now know that these pre-existing disparities are contributing to worse outcomes among Black, indigenous, Latino/x, and Pacific Islander communities fighting the coronavirus.
Yet, these same communities are also more likely to be on the front lines of the pandemic as essential workers like nurses, home care workers, and grocery store workers, putting their personal health on the line to keep the country functioning while we practice physical distancing.
And even as more than 20 million Americans have filed for unemployment, many low-income households and young people are being left out of unemployment benefits, health coverage, and stimulus checks because of arbitrary eligibility rules. It is a gross injustice that so many of these folks risk both suffering the worst effects of the pandemic and being largely left behind in congressional relief efforts.
Congress must prioritize aid and relief for those who are on the front lines of this crisis–especially young people, women of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and low-income families–and expand our social safety net to help everyone weather this crisis.
SIECUS echoes our partners in demanding that Congress emphasize these priorities in the latest COVID relief package:
- Provide personal protective equipment for health care providers and other essential workers like grocery store workers, farmworkers, home and child care workers, shelter and crisis service providers, and delivery service workers.
- Prioritize financial relief through sustained direct cash assistance, expanding SNAP benefits and eliminating work requirements. This also includes expanding unemployment benefits, paid leave programs, and nutrition benefits, debt relief, housing protections and assistance, and other expansions of the social safety net, including small business aid.
- Invest in support for survivors of domestic and sexual violence who are experiencing increased danger during this period of stay-at-home orders. This includes providing additional emergency funding for the Sexual Assault Services Program to help rape crisis centers transition to remote services and meet the needs of survivors.
- Expand opportunities for health coverage, including special enrollment periods and outreach and enrollment efforts, and guarantees for COVID-19 treatment with no cost-sharing. These efforts must also be inclusive of currently ineligible immigrants and protect access to essential, time-sensitive abortion care. Congress should also guarantee access to telehealth and telemedicine, with a particular focus on marginalized and rural communities.
- Close the relief gap for young people ages 17-23, who are disqualified from relief efforts by addressing the loophole that excludes young people who have been claimed “dependents” on their parents’ previous taxes from receiving a stimulus check. This effort must also include cancelling student debt for the thousands of young people–many who have been displaced from their college housing.
- Remove people from crowded institutions. Systems-involved people–especially nonviolent offenders–should be removed from crowded shelters, prisons, youth and immigration detention centers, and into safe housing.
- Strengthen our democracy by requiring vote-by-mail nationwide while maintaining access to in-person voting.
- Increase testing and reporting by requiring the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention to collect and report demographic data on COVID-19 testing practices, cases, deaths, and severe illness/complications resulting from COVID-19.
The list is long. At its core is a demand that Congress prioritize values of fairness, equity, inclusion, respect, and equitable access to services and support. In times of crisis, we must center the needs of low-income families, communities of color, LGBTQ folks, and young people.”
SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change has served as the national voice for sex education for 55 years, asserting that sexuality is a fundamental part of being human, one worthy of dignity and respect. Through policy, advocacy, education, and strategic communications efforts, SIECUS advances sex education as a vehicle for social change—working toward a world where all people can access and enjoy sexual and reproductive freedom as they define it for themselves.