Pitt Health Page: Coronavirus and Finances

For New Pittsburgh Courier

During the COVID-19 global pandemic, people’s financial stress has grown. To reduce the spread of the virus, almost half of the world’s population—nearly 4 billion people—have been asked to remain at home and only leave for activities like essential work, groceries and exercise. Stay-at-home orders also have forced many businesses to come to a halt. Many people, including those in the Pittsburgh area, have lost jobs, been laid off or are experiencing reduced work hours. According to the Department of Labor data through March 28, more than 10 million people in the United States lost their jobs and applied for government aid.

The coronavirus itself does not discriminate. Inequities in our systems are causing Black and Brown communities to be left behind. U.S. Representative Robin Kelly, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust, said Black and Brown communities tend to be hit hardest by health crises. They often have less wealth than Whites and less access to quality health care.

The availability of sick days and access to health insurance are affected by the kind of work people do. Not having these benefits, and also not having the savings to take unpaid leave, are added stressors during these times. Even people who have health insurance and some financial assets (i.e., wealth) are now caring for themselves or loved ones who have lost their jobs. Reports show that Black and Brown people are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Communities of color already have some diseases at higher rates. Already having a disease makes it harder to survive COVID-19 infection. This is one reason people in these communities are dying from COVID-19 at higher rates than white people.

Health disparities exist because of historical and present-day wrongdoings. Policies like redlining pushed people into environmentally unjust neighborhoods and reduced geographic access to medical care. Systemic racism further affects physical and mental health. Black and Brown communities also encounter medical and workforce systems that do not always believe their symptoms and experiences, which also contributes to health disparities.

COVID-19 effects reveal long-standing disparities in income and highlight the wealth gap. The need for government assistance, using food pantries and filing for unemployment brought on by the pandemic are not new to everyone. It is important to mention that Black and Brown communities are navigating this wealth gap because of 400 years of historical policies. Systematic wealth imbalance has been in place for hundreds of years and is now being more widely exposed.

What we do know is that COVID-19 will affect everyone’s finances—specifically those of Black and Brown families. Children of parents whose finances have been affected are noticing changes to their daily lives. Parents and caregivers are home throughout the day, some schools are offering virtual learning and outdoor time is limited. The last thing parents and caregivers want to do is share their financial situations with their children. However, open and age-appropriate discussions about current financial changes could help. Conversations about grocery store restrictions, spending limitations and sharing information about local and federal government programs could also reassure children during these tough times.

Local and national organizations have put together materials to help parents have conversations with their families during this pandemic. The federal government recently passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in an attempt to delay a recession. CARES provides funding for individuals and families based on income levels. The bill seeks to “provide emergency assistance and health care response for individuals, families, and businesses affected by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.” In general, this will mean people with incomes up to $75,000 qualify for $1,200. Married couples filing jointly, with income up to $150,000, will get $2,400. Those who have higher incomes get less or may get nothing. Parents and caregivers also get $500 for each child age 16 or younger.

The CARES Act has also expanded unemployment compensation to an additional $600 per month for qualifying workers, including support for those who are self-employed and otherwise-exempt jobs like gig workers. Recently, the CARES Act provided small businesses and independent contractors relief by offering a paycheck protection program.

Even in this difficult time, there are some options for assistance. For a list of resources to help navigate life during the COVID-19 pandemic, please go online to https://newpittsburghcourier.com/2020/04/13/covid-19-resources/

(ABOUT THE TOP PHOTO: U.S. Representative Robin KellyCourtesy Photo)

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