The COVID-19 crisis has hit low-income households and people of color the hardest in every way, from job loss to death. Even as we focus on helping address the most urgent needs of our communities through the Pandemic Relief Fund and other efforts, we must ask a critical question about the future: how can we approach the recovery through the lens of equity?

When we prepare for emergencies, we often think about “shocks'' and not enough about “stressors.” COVID-19 is a shock, like an earthquake or a wildfire. Poverty, isolation, and inequity are stressors. Ignoring stressors makes the shocks much worse. They hurt vulnerable people and communities to a larger extent. 

Initial numbers show that African-Americans in Los Angeles County have died from COVID-19 almost double compared to their number in the county population. That’s evidence of a deep faultline that won’t go away when the virus does. This is consistent with longstanding health disparities present long before COVID-19. According to the US Office of Minority Health, African Americans in the United States are 60% more likely to be diabetic and 20% more likely to die from heart disease than non-hispanic white Americans. Both conditions which are known to put them further at risk for severe cases of COVID-19. Economic inequity within our healthcare system deprives many people of color to direct access. Institutional racism also plays a role in these long standing health disparities.

When the day comes where we can go back to school and/or work, we will still have an enormous path ahead of us for recovery. Let’s make sure our focus remains on easing those stressors — by closing the equity gaps that have made this such a painful shock for so many.

We know that homelessness disproportionately impacts African Americans, representing only 8 percent of our county but 42 percent of the homeless population. COVID-19 is exacerbating that- but it doesn’t have to. We can make sure our recovery closes equity gaps instead of exacerbating them by ensuring that no one who comes inside should go back out. We’re moving thousands of unsheltered people into shelters and hotel rooms. We’re working with City, County and LAHSA and Sacramento to find ways to connect them to housing so they don’t have to go from shelter to the streets.

United Way works closely with numerous organizations that predominantly serve people of color in our community. Many of these organizations are rising to the occasion and taking risks to help people who need it. This crisis will hurt their budgets and we want to make sure they can continue helping our most vulnerable through the economic crisis. As we look at recovery we are making an intentional effort to ensure flexible funding for organizations that are led by and serve people of color.

Recently, United Way Worldwide, in partnership with Black Entertainment Television (BET) hosted a broadcast special, Saving Our Selves: A BET COVID-19 Relief Effort, that raised funds and awareness to support African American communities impacted by the pandemic. United Way of Greater Los Angeles was among a select group of local United Ways that included  Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Detroit, and New Orleans, with funds directly benefiting local nonprofits serving the African American population. 

There is an important opportunity here to restore equity as we recover. Let’s do this together.