Pitt Health Page: Take charge of your health today. – COVID-19’s economic impact

by Esther Bush, For New Pittsburgh Courier

The purpose of this monthly page is to focus on health disparities in the Pittsburgh region. Our goal is to educate readers about key health issues and inform you of research opportunities and community resources. All articles can be accessed online at the New Pittsburgh Courier website (newpittsburghcourier.com). The monthly series is a partnership of the New Pittsburgh Courier, Community PARTners (a core service of the University of Pittsburgh’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute—CTSI), the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh and the UPMC Center for Engagement and Inclusion.

We originally planned for this month’s installment to focus on the relationship among teens, their parents and money. However, the current COVID-19 pandemic has prompted us to focus on how this pandemic is causing what some experts are calling a “crisis within a crisis.” Communities of color across Allegheny County are being hit harder, with fewer financial resources on which to rely. Erricka Hager and Bee Schindler, community engagement coordinators with CTSI, and Esther L. Bush, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, spoke about this topic.

EH: Good afternoon, Ms. Bush. It’s nice to sit down and talk again. Thank you for helping us to shift the conversation from education to action. As you know, April is Financial Literacy Month. Unfortunately, studies being conducted now are revealing that the economic impact of COVID-19 will hit Black and Brown communities the hardest. Thankfully there are a lot of resources already available and others being developed that can help our most vulnerable communities.

EB: Hello, Erricka and Bee. Thank you for focusing on this topic and the resources that are available for those in our community who are being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This virus, as you noted, is a crisis on many levels, not only affecting health and our financial stability. This topic is important to the work we do at the Urban League. Economic self-reliance is one of the pillars of the Urban League movement. This pandemic has caused us to respond in a way that we know best—collectively.

BS: Yes, Ms. Bush. Pillars in the community, like the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, are showing up in really critical and amazing ways. I’m excited to share actionable steps with our readers about how they can best prepare their families during this crisis. This pandemic has drastically changed our everyday lives. Health experts mention that society will be dealing with complications from COVID-19 for years to come.

EH: And because of our ever-growing racial wealth gap, Black and Brown communities remain at risk of continuing to be left behind. In the overview, we shared information about the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and financial support that is available for families based on income levels. Although funding was designated for individuals, families and small business owners, public health organizations and large corporations will also receive assistance. Unfortunately, these organizations can dictate how and where they want to spend their financial support. Limited oversight could cause these organizations to bail out larger White businesses, while completely ignoring Black and Brown businesses. What are some ways we can encourage our readers to advocate for the needs of Black and Brown communities?

EB: That is a great question, Erricka. We must be intentional in our response. We should urge politicians to be mindful of how policies could leave behind Black and Brown communities. This is the perfect time for us to call out messaging steeped in fear and racism. This means advocating for intentional and equitable economic policies for Black and Brown communities. I know we all can agree that we can do a better job of collaborating and working together to include the needs of Black and Brown communities into economic conversations. I’m glad that we are including the racial wealth gap in the overview. We should all be informed about the ways that policies negatively affect Black families.

BS: I agree, Ms. Bush. Education and advocacy are key. Supporting Black-owned businesses that are still operating online is another key way to keep businesses from shuttering in the time of COVID-19. While the racial wealth gap has become a growing concern in the run-up to the 2020 election, we still need to educate our communities about local initiatives. For example, Circles of Greater Pittsburgh is working to move people and families out of poverty. They use a framework where they connect a circle leader or a low-income person or couple with two to three allies. This circle then works together to provide support while the circle leader identifies and meets goals to move out of poverty.

EH: I like the idea of pairing the circle leader with an ally. The circle model really makes sense. It’s encouraging various groups of people to work together to help eliminate the racial wealth gap. It’s also a great relationship-building model. I would also encourage our readers to get involved with local efforts. Dr. Jamil Bey and the UrbanKind Institute have been sharing information that Black Pittsburghers should know about COVID-19. Also, we are not the experts in this space and welcome any resources that the community feels should be on our radar. The partnership between the Urban League and CTSI has always been community-driven and will continue to follow that model. Our readers can email the Community PARTners Core for more information about participating in research or information about community resources at bos23@pitt.edu. They can also call the contacts listed on this page to learn how to participate in the FinD study or access additional resources.

EB: Thank you for sharing these details and for this conversation, Bee and Erricka. While it’s unfortunate that Black families are still suffering from policies of the past, it’s good to know that there are efforts being made at city, state and national levels to close the gap. We must continue to push back on these policies and ensure they are including Black and Brown communities.

And, if I could add, I want to encourage all of our readers to complete their 2020 Census. Data received from the 2020 Census helps determine where public funds are distributed. It’s so important that our readers complete the Census and be counted. Thank you both again for our conversation. I look forward to hearing your thoughts next month about the importance of data literacy.

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