Anti-racist principles would ensure equitable COVID recovery

Abimael Chavez-Hernandez
Aug 14, 2020
Coronavirus is disproportionately harming the economic well-being and health of BIPOC communities (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). A recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) highlights how these impacts are rooted in systemic racism. Policymakers must respond with anti-racist policies that provide aid to those most in need, address structural racism to build broadly-shared prosperity, and strengthen state revenues in order to build equitable and inclusive communities for all.

Due to a broad array of past and current policies that limit their ability to build income and wealth (such as redlining policies that restricted what neighborhoods people of color could live in, and underinvestment in education and transportation in their communities), people of color face structural barriers that make it harder to succeed in the economy. People of color are more likely to work in jobs with increased exposure to the coronavirus and they are more likely to lack affordable health care, all of which make them more susceptible to the harmful impacts of COVID-19.

We also know that in addition to needing to respond to the public health and economic effects of COVID-19, states and localities are now also facing revenue shortfalls. Policymakers often respond to such shortfalls by cutting public services, such as affordable health care and income supports, despite the fact that these are just what their residents need to get through an economic downturn. This causes disproportionate harm to low-income people and people of color, who have fewer resources to get by. As a result, policy responses to economic downturns can lead to a greater hardship for people of color during the recession, followed by an inequitable recovery in which white and wealthier people recover more quickly, as happened in the aftermath of the Great Recession. 

Policymakers today can avoid the mistakes of the past if their choices are guided by anti-racist principles that can ensure an equitable and inclusive recovery for all. 

But before we get to policy details, what is an anti-racist policy? CBPP follows the definition of author and historian Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. According to Kendi, an anti-racist policy is one that seeks to “dismantle the racism embedded in our social, economic, and political systems and structures, which results in persistent racial inequities.”

The report lifts up policies that follow these principles:
  • Provide aid to those most in need during our current health and economic crisis. Unemployment rates have soared for BIPOC communities. To address the significant income losses people of color and their families are facing, states should take action including expanding unemployment insurance, cash assistance, housing assistance, and food support. States should also expand access to affordable health coverage so that BIPOC folks can receive the health care they need. 
  • Advance anti-racist policies to dismantle long-standing inequities. Actions taken to address inequity today should be kept in place for the long-run, and states should go further. For example, states should maintain policy changes that have expanded the types of workers eligible to receive unemployment insurance to include part-time workers, independent contractors, and others. And they should act further to make these systems more inclusive, reversing the ways historic labor market discrimination has precluded communities of color from participation. States should also boost the incomes of people earning low wages by expanding eligibility for tax credits to include undocumented immigrants. States should further invest in the education of communities where public investment has historically been lacking, including low-income communities, rural communities, and communities of color.
  • Strengthen state finances to support equitable responses to the current crises and build equitable growth for the long-term. This pandemic-induced recession is leading to dramatic drops in state revenues at a time when the need for bold state action is most needed. How states respond will have profound implications for racial and economic equity. Rather than cutting essential services and laying off public employees, which disproportionately harm communities of color, state policymakers should draw on the resources we need to take care of each other through progressive revenue-raising and use of reserves. Drawing from state budget reserves will help states avoid cuts to supports that people especially count on in a time of need. Raising taxes on wealthy individuals and profitable corporations, which have been least affected by the economic downturn, will mean states can continue to meet folks’ needs and build more equitable revenue systems. Lifting barriers that prevent local governments from enacting progressive revenue streams could also be part of ensuring continued and adequate funding for public services.