Neal Opening Statement at Hearing of the Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on Communities of Color

May 27, 2020
Press Release
(As prepared for delivery)
 
Good afternoon and welcome. Thank you everyone for joining today and navigating this new technology with us.
 
While many of us are back in Washington today, we are holding this hearing virtually, in compliance with the regulations for remote committee proceedings pursuant to House Resolution 965.
 
Remote hearings certainly aren’t the same as sitting together in our Committee room, but this new authority has allowed us to continue to do our work on behalf of the American people while keeping our staff, families, and broader communities safe.
 
This is the first official virtual committee hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives. As we begin this historic proceeding I want to underscore that I plan to continue this Committee’s long tradition of collegiality and substantive debate, even as we conduct our business from afar. I will continue to work with the Ranking Member and his staff to ensure that the rights of all members are respected in this new, virtual format.
 
And so before we turn to today’s important topic, I want to remind members of a few procedures to help you navigate this new platform.
First, consistent with regulations, the Committee will keep microphones muted to limit background noise. Members are responsible for unmuting themselves when they seek recognition or when recognized for their five minutes.
 
Second, Members and witnesses must have their cameras on at all times. If you need to step away from the proceeding please leave your camera on rather than logging out.
 
Finally, I understand that there will be votes today as early as 1:30 pm. However, it is my intention to continue with our proceedings and avoid recessing. If your time for questioning occurs while you have left to vote I will come back to you when you return. 
 
I thank you all for your patience as we navigate this new technology in order to continue serving our country together in this great time of need.
 
And with that, I will now turn to the important topic of today’s hearing, the “Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on Communities of Color.”
 
In March, COVID-19 became a national public health emergency like none seen in modern history. Our lives have been turned upside down by a virus we are still trying to understand. 
 
Tragically, nearly 100,000 Americans have now died of this disease, and millions more have lost their jobs. From sanitation workers in cities, to teachers in suburbs, to ranchers and farmers in rural areas, Americans everywhere are experiencing the fear, uncertainty, and pain associated with the virus.
 
But the health consequences of the virus are not felt evenly across our society. COVID-19 has shone a light on our country’s centuries-old legacy of inequality.
 
While the factors driving these inequities are complex and multifaceted, their impact on health outcomes have been clearly documented.
For example, Indigenous and Black pregnant women die at three times the rate of White women in this country. Black Americans are 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease than White Americans. Latinx populations in America have lower rates of health insurance coverage than other ethnic groups.
 
And even though my state of Massachusetts has the highest rate of health insurance coverage in the country, these inequalities persist. The predominantly Black community of Roxbury experiences an average life expectancy of 59 years, compared to the predominantly White community of Back Bay, which has an average life expectancy of 92 years.
 
And now existing inequities are placing communities of color at greater risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19. For example:
• Fewer than 22 percent of U.S. counties are disproportionately black, but they account for 52 percent of COVID-19 diagnoses and 58 percent of COVID-19 deaths nationally.
• In Los Angeles County, the death rate for Pacific Islanders is 12 times higher than it is for whites.
• And the infection rate among the Navajo Nation has now surpassed the state of New York, the center of the pandemic in the United States – reaching 2,680 cases per 100,000 people.
 
That is why we convened this hearing – to unpack these circumstances and begin to unravel the roots of our own history that have brought us to this point. These conversations can be difficult, but we are at a crucial stage in our country’s response to the virus. As communities begin to loosen social distancing guidelines, these disparities will worsen if testing, infection control, and contact tracing approaches are not accessible to – and trusted by – communities of color. That is an outcome I am not prepared to accept.
 
Many communities of color are in desperate need of resources for testing and contact tracing support to manage the day-to-day response. And looking ahead, demographic data needs to be used effectively so that resources reach these communities to help them recover and rebuild. Although these groups have the highest rates of positive tests and mortality, they have less access to testing and treatment. That is simply unacceptable.
 
We can save lives by understanding what communities of color need and then taking appropriate action.
 
Part of our efforts must include minimizing misinformation about the virus. These untruths can compound disparities in outcomes and lead to further mistrust of our vital health interventions. For example, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have faced increasing rates of hate and racism as misinformation circulated about the origins of the coronavirus.
 
These are difficult and unprecedented times, and I am proud that this Committee is playing a central role in responding to the crisis we currently face. We must remain focused on the massive public health challenges and the resulting economic turmoil that millions of Americans are experiencing. 
 
Over the past few months, Congress has successfully come together to pass substantial bipartisan legislation responding to the COVID-19 crisis. I have confidence that we can work across the aisle and with our Senate counterparts to do so again in the coming weeks. The Heroes Act includes many good ideas and proven solutions that we can all get behind. 
 
I want our nation to re-open. I want Americans to get back to work and for our economy to come back to life. And I believe all of my colleagues share those goals.
 
Discussions like the one we’re having today will help us better protect the health of all communities as we begin the re-opening process, and it will improve the odds that all communities can participate in and benefit from that return to work. 
 
For the Americans who can choose whether or not to go back to work, that choice should not be between life and death. And we cannot forget that many in our country don’t have a choice at all. Frontline workers deemed essential have been on the job this whole time, risking their lives, and too often earning barely enough to survive. So many of these workers are people of color and women – they’re carrying a tremendous burden through the crisis, and they deserve much better.
 
There are so many issues demanding our attention, and the Ways and Means Committee will continue to work relentlessly to support Americans through this crisis. Today is the first of many discussions to come.
 
So thank you to our esteemed panel of witnesses for joining us for this important discussion.
 
And with that I will recognize the Ranking Member, Mr. Brady, for the purposes of an opening statement.
 
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