If Not Now, When?

by Gita Rampersad, JD, MHA Vice President, Health and Nutrition, Feeding America

One of the many consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has laid bare systems of inequity disproportionately working against Black, Latinx, and other communities of color.

COVID-19 racial data continue to emerge for most states and DC, reflecting a clear pattern of disparity. In June, Hispanics/Latinxs made up 33 percent of COVID-19 cases, albeit comprising only 18 percent of the total U.S. population. Blacks make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, yet they account for 22 percent of all COVID-19 cases. Navajo Nation, the largest U.S. Indian reservation (but only roughly the size of West Virginia), had the highest per capita infection rate in the country.

The time to dismantle health inequities happens now.

What are the reasons behind these glaring racial disparities? Many people of color (POC) live with underlying, yet substantially avoidable chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and asthma. POC are also more likely to be uninsured or underinsured, restricting access to health care services. Many work in the service industry and have lost their jobs and accompanying health insurance. POC make up a large part of the country’s essential workforce on the front lines in every community across the country, serving in grocery stores, delivering packages, driving buses–ensuring other people could stay home. Essential workers often rely on public transportation to get to work, putting them at increased risk of exposure from an inability to control social distancing. Many live in multigenerational settings, presenting additional challenges to their health and safety during this pandemic.

Compounding these challenges, POC continue to be subjected to structural inequities perpetuated by systemic racism and bias, evidenced during the pandemic by countless news stories of those denied or delayed potentially lifesaving testing and treatment.

Our country’s diverse communities need our help now more than ever.

Prior to COVID-19, 37 Million Americans were hungry–that’s 1 in 9 people.  21 percent of Black households and 16 percent of Latinx households were estimated to be food insecure. Feeding America’s network of over 200 food banks served 1 in 4 Black and 1 in 6 Latinx households compared to 1 in 10 White households.

Enter COVID-19: Feeding America estimates that over 54 Million Americans—or 1 in 6–will be food insecure because of the pandemic. Already, approximately 35 percent of Blacks and 33 percent of Latinxs are struggling to put food on their tables compared to 21 percent of Whites. These persistent race gaps are appalling and must be rectified so all Americans have enough nutritious food to feed themselves and their families.

To achieve our vision of a hunger-free America, we must also apply a racial equity lens and address the root causes of hunger and health.

At Feeding America, we believe that by ensuring equitable access to nutritious food and resources, we can help all our neighbors lead healthy, active lives and contribute to the elimination of racial and ethnic health inequities. We know that food insecurity is linked to poor nutrition and chronic disease. We know that poverty is a driver of food insecurity. But why are Blacks three times as likely to live in high poverty areas? Why does there continue to be such a glaring wealth divide in this country between POC and Whites?

Our approach must carefully consider solutions to remove existing social and structural determinants that make POC more vulnerable to illness and disease, including COVID-19.

What can we do, as the second largest U.S. charity, to center the needs of communities of color?

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed some of the ways we connect and support each other. Taking a collaborative approach to unpack racial and ethnic health disparities exacerbated by food insecurity continues to be an essential key to future success.  Feeding America is working with other national organizations towards a shared vision of equitable access, health, and opportunity through the development of powerful cross sector partnerships and coalitions.

Our Health and Nutrition team is committed to efforts that transform the charitable food experience and promote optimal health and wellbeing, giving everyone a chance to thrive. It’s time to step up collective action that ends hunger, improves health, and advances equity. To get involved, please reach out! Visit www.hungerandhealth.org to learn more about health and nutrition at Feeding America. #weareallinthistogether

“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”

-Rep. John Robert Lewis