New York, NY – Civil rights and social justice leaders in the northeast today called on their respective governors to ensure that communities of color receive an equal amount of resources as the states begin to ready their economies to open. 

The leaders are members of Faith in Action, a network of clergy and social activists who work towards reducing gun violence and mass incarceration, as well as expanding voting rights and health care. 

The leaders recently sent a letter to all northeast governors outlining the steps they should be taking to make sure that all races in the region receive an equal amount of benefits to better defend themselves against the COVID-19 pandemic. 

They cite reports that show that black residents are 3.4 times more likely to die from Covid-19 than white residents across the northeast. 

“Everything we know from public health professionals about containing and mitigating an epidemic says that our public response needs to be targeted to communities most at risk, and based on two-way communication,” the signatories write. “We urge you to follow science rather than politics and prejudice by speaking publicly about racial equity and directly engaging communities of color as full partners in the life and death decisions you are making.”

One of the eight items sent in the letter to the governors of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware calls for the states to use emergency Medicaid funds and state resources to cover testing and treatment for all residents at no cost.

During the virtual call that was broadcasted via Facebook Live, Bishop Dwayne Royster, Faith in Action regional director, said that hospitalizations for COVID-19 patients are averaging about $13,000. But those who need intensive care, the costs are much higher, averaging about $40,000 per patient. 

He noted that there are tens of thousands of families in the region that do not have any form of healthcare, or they have plans with high out-of-pocket costs and they face the prospect of declaring bankruptcy as a result of contracting the coronavirus.

Bishop Royster also pointed to news accounts in New York where people with the illness never sought care because they were afraid to go to the hospital. According to Royster, they didn’t know how they were going to pay for the bills without health insurance and they didn’t want to be a burden to their families. 

“We believe that the governors must use Medicaid funds in their states to cover testing and treatment for all residents at no cost. It would probably be wise even if the governors would use their Medicaid funds to cover every resident of their state without health care until the pandemic ends,” Bishop Royster said.

The clergyman added that “at a minimum,” governors should use their state Medicaid funds to cover testing and treatment for everyone so that our healthcare facilities are getting paid and we aren’t bankrupting families.” 

Another step the governors should be taking, according to Faith in Action, is providing the universal option to vote by mail as numerous primaries approach—a judge just ruled that New York must reinstate its June 23 primary after cancelling it. 

According to Rev. Dr. Mark Tyler of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, some of those steps include mailing absentee ballots to all registered voters during a public health emergency; making it possible for voters to return their ballots with pre-paid envelopes and have their ballots counted so long as they are postmarked by Election Day; and all voters having the ability to register to vote online, by mail or in-person and allowing same-day voter registration, among others.  

“This is the very minimum that we must do, many of us have paid for the right to vote, not simply with our feet, but our ancestors have paid with blood and everyone should therefore have the right to exercise that privilege,” said Rev. Dr. Tyler.

In addition, the group wants to see a cancellation of all rent payments for communities of color. 

But they were asked during the live event by the mayor of Plainfield, New Jersey, Adrian Mapp (D), how would small landlords who own two- and three-family units pay their mortgages if rents were to be cancelled during the pandemic. 

“I support the notion when it comes to commercial property owners, but what about small property owners of two- and three-family units?

Charlene Walker, executive director of Faith in Action in New Jersey, said there is currently a bill being sponsored by Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake (D-NJ) that would allow for mortgage forbearance and even allow certain business owners with a commercial mortgage or rental property to receive a payment freeze. 

Upon the bill’s introduction, the assemblywoman released a statement, which is available here


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