It has been a little more than a year since COVID-19 was officially discovered within the boundaries of the United States. It has been devastating to communities of color.
The statistics are sobering. Blacks represent only 13% of the U.S. population, but account for nearly 24% of age-adjusted COVID-19 deaths. In January, nine percent of Black workers or 1.8 million people in our communities were unemployed. One in five Black households are struggling with food insufficiency, and more than a third of Black renters are behind on their rent payments.
President Joe Biden has responded to this world-wide pandemic with The American Rescue Plan (ARP) which he signed into law last month, just 51 days after he took office. The ARP will help change the course of the pandemic and deliver immediate relief for hard-hit communities of color. This transformative law invests in a national vaccination program and the safe reopening of schools. It distributes $360 billion in emergency funding for state and local governments to keep front line public workers on the job and help maintain essential services. These targeted investments will directly benefit your communities and help them return safely to normal.
The ARP also provides direct benefits for you and your family. It delivers immediate relief to families by devoting $1 trillion towards economic recovery for working families including direct relief payments, extension of unemployment insurance benefits, increasing child and earned income tax credits, and increasing SNAP benefits.
Many of you may have already received the $1,400 direct payment per eligible member of your household. Because of misinformation that is being shared via social media, I want to clarify that this is the second of two payments. The first $600 payments per eligible person were distributed in December and January. These two direct payments deliver on the $2,000 per person in pandemic relief that Democrats campaigned on last November.
The American Rescue Plan also addresses inequities in access to pandemic resources by making significant investments into small, Black businesses by providing $50 billion for new and existing small business relief programs. This legislation bolsters the Paycheck Protection Program with an additional $7.25 billion in funding to support small businesses and non-profits that were previously excluded.
It allocates $15 billion in flexible grants to help the smallest, most severely impacted businesses persevere through the pandemic. It deploys community navigators to increase awareness of and participation in COVID-19 relief programs for small business owners who currently lack access, especially underserved entrepreneurs without banking relationships, lawyers, accountants, and consultants. And, it provides $28 billion for a new grant program to revitalize hard-hit small restaurants and other food and drinking establishments.
The American Rescue Plan is the first piece of legislation passed by the 117th Congress and signed by President Biden to rescue our economy and repair some of our faults that are being exasperated by COVID-19. On March 30 President Biden rolled out his American Jobs Plan. That plan proposes to: Fix highways, rebuild bridges, upgrade ports, airports and transit systems; deliver clean drinking water, a renewed electric grid, and high-speed broadband to all Americans; build, preserve, and retrofit more than two million homes and commercial buildings, modernize our nation’s schools and child care facilities, and upgrade veterans’ hospitals and federal buildings.
These actions demonstrate President Biden’s and Congressional Democrats’ commitment to building America back better than it was before the virus visited. This is not the end of his build back better plan. There is a third iteration on the way.
During his victory speech last November, President Biden pledged to always have the backs of the African American community. We will continue fighting to ensure that, in the short term, Black communities have access to all the tools necessary to recover from the economic and personal devastation wrought by this pandemic; and in the long term, address the impacts of historic disparate treatment against communities of color.