Representative Adriano Espaillat spoke on the U.S. House floor this week to address the disparities affecting minority communities amid the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis.
*Below are remarks by Rep. Espaillat as prepared for delivery.*
“Thank you, Madam Speaker. Today, we are reconvening our monthly Special Order Hour of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic reached America’s shores.
“As we speak here today, America is staring down the barrel of a third wave – the worst one we’ve faced. We’re adding a million cases a week. A million! Every week!
“We are approaching a total of 11.5 million cases, more than any other nation by far, despite many more populous countries with outbreaks. Even more grim, we lead the world in the number of confirmed COVID-related deaths, and are approaching 1,000 deaths per day, more than any other nation facing this new wave. And states and cities are careening toward new lockdowns just as we near the Thanksgiving holiday – which used to be the most heavily travelled day of the year.
“As I speak to you now, my home city of New York has just announced schools will again be closed indefinitely.
“Madam Speaker – we all know why America is facing such a terrible outbreak of this virus… The abject failure of the Trump Administration and numerous Republican political leaders to take this pandemic seriously. The failure of leadership. The failure of responsibility. The failure to even encourage something so simple as wearing a mask to save lives.
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“The phenomenon of COVID-19’s unbridled spread throughout the United States is a serious one. But there’s an even more serious phenomenon taking place – and that’s the alarming disparate impact on communities of color, and particularly Hispanic communities.
When my home state and city of New York became the nation’s first epicenter of the pandemic, the racial disparities became clear as day.
“The hardest hit ZIP codes were also those with the highest minority population. My district in Harlem, Washington Heights, Inwood and the Northwest Bronx contained some of the worst-hit ZIP codes.
“And our CHC colleague, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents New York’s 14th District in Queens and the Bronx, also saw some of the most diverse ZIP codes in her district get hit the hardest. As the pandemic began to subside in New York but took hold in other parts of the country, the disparity continued unabated.
“Studies conducted in June bore out statistically what I had seen on the ground with my own eyes. Now, as the U.S. surpasses 250,000 COVID-19 deaths, and quickly approaches 12 million confirmed cases, racial data is more complete, and the trend is crystal clear: People of color get sick and die of COVID-19 at rates higher than whites and higher than their share of the population.
“The system is broken in so many ways that the pandemic has both laid bare and exacerbated. Both African Americans and Latinos are consistently at higher risks for health conditions both environmental and inherited that have detrimental effects on quality of life.
“NPR recently did an analysis using information from the COVID Tracking Project, and it shows how the disparities are consistent state by state. One key finding is that Hispanics are consistently dying from COVID-19 at rates higher than their share of state populations, no matter where they are.
“In May, this was true in only seven states, but it has spread to more. Latinos also have a disproportionate rate of infection in 45 states and the District of Columbia. It is unfortunately easy to see why this trend is happening. These communities are often more likely to face economic hurdles that have kept them from receiving quality health care. The kinds of preventive treatment that many of us take for granted are a luxury to those who cannot afford health insurance.
“We made major improvements with the Affordable Care Act, lowering costs and getting millions more Americans insured. But the Trump Administration has done everything in its power to hamper the law, and sure enough, we have begun to see a decline in the rate of those with insurance, rather than the other way around.
“Preventive care is important because it ensures that other co-morbidities are detected early and well-managed. In the absence of that care, something like an infectious disease can make the difference between life and death.
“Furthermore, things like food deserts leave many low-income families of color without healthy food options, driving up the rate of problems like diabetes, heart disease, and more. Heavy air pollution in densely populated urban centers, which many communities of color call home, means higher rates of asthma and other chronic respiratory illnesses. So, when a highly infectious virus that attacks the respiratory system comes along, its more likely to take its toll on those who already have respiratory illnesses.
“And need I mention that Latinos and African Americans make up a disproportionate share of our frontline workers – putting them at a much higher risk. As all of this piles up, it plays out in an obvious way – More black and brown bodies in the morgue than there should be.
“But Madam Speaker, it doesn’t have to be this way. Not only can we turn this pandemic around – we can also turn the disparities around. With a national strategy to contain and combat the virus, we can reduce its spread. With a targeted campaign to communities of color, we can keep our fellow Americans safe. And with aid to communities who need it the most, we can keep families economically stable until we’re finally out of the woods.
“Since enacting the CARES Act, Democrats have twice passed the HEROES Act to get critical aid to our communities. Billions of dollars for testing and tracing. Billions of dollars for hospitals and needed personal protective equipment. Billions of dollars for small businesses, and the entertainment and food-service industries, which are taking a harder hit than most. Billions of dollars for public transit agencies and their frontline workers, who have heroically been keeping service going despite months of plummeting ridership because they need to get our doctors, nurses, first responders, supermarket workers and others to work and home every day. Billions of dollars for state and city governments who are facing dire revenue shortfalls through no fault of their own.
“And finally, Madam Speaker – billions of dollars directly into the pockets of our fellow Americans through a second round of stimulus payments. This kind of aid can be transformational.
“But Republicans in the Senate have refused to even consider the bill, and the Trump Administration has dragged us along as we have tried to negotiate to get robust help to the American people. It is long past time for them to come to the table and work with us to get the HEROES Act signed into law and get people the help they need.
“Finally, Madam Speaker, while we have seen terrible news about the rise in cases and deaths these past couple of weeks, we were also given a light at the end of the tunnel.
“In just the past few days, we received news that two COVID-19 vaccines may be more than 90% effective – an incredible rate. And while it may take time to produce enough doses and stand up the infrastructure to get the vaccine to those who need it, we must make sure from the outset that vaccine distribution is equitable.
“We cannot make the same mistake with the vaccine that was made with testing. We can’t leave states and communities on their own to fight in the… “free market” for such a vital public health resource. And we can’t allow an important thing like a vaccine that will be in such limited supply to flow to those who are able to pay the highest price. We need a comprehensive plan to ensure the vaccine gets to those MOST vulnerable the MOST quickly.
“And we must make sure the communities that were hardest hit by this pandemic and the Trump Administration’s dereliction of duty are FIRST in line to get vaccinated. Communities of color, the Hispanic community, African Americans, Native Americans, and others were left out as testing was in short supply. They were left out as ICU beds were in short supply. But they MUST NOT be left out as vaccines begin to get delivered. Given the disparate way in which this virus has hit our communities, they should be among the first receive the safety and security of vaccine immunity.
“Madam Speaker, I would now like to yield to my colleague who has seen COVID make a strong resurgence of late in his community as well, my colleague from Chicago, Mr. García.
“Madam Speaker – I thank you for this opportunity to allow the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to talk about the importance of combating the disparities laid bare by the COVID-19 epidemic and how we can make up for the harm that has been wrought.
“And I want to thank my CHC colleagues, both those who were able to join me today and those who were not, for all the hard work they have been doing day in and day out since March to help their constituents and keep our communities safe.
“Thank you and I yield back.”
First elected to Congress in 2016, Rep. Adriano Espaillat is serving his second term in Congress where he serves as a member of the influential U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and the House Small Business Committee.
He serves as a Senior Whip of the House Democratic Caucus and is a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) where he also serves in a leadership role as CHC Whip.
He is also chairman of the CHC Task Force for Transportation, Infrastructure and Housing. Rep. Espaillat’s Congressional District includes Harlem, East Harlem, northern Manhattan and the north-west Bronx. To find out more about Rep. Espaillat, visit online at https://espaillat.house.gov/.